Band, orchestra, chorus, jazz band, they're all popular programs in public schools. For some students, those electives are the incentive that makes school exciting every day.
For others, music opens doors to college and careers. These programs, however, are expensive. At Norland Middle School, for instance, the band uses instruments that are decades old. Drums with torn skins, horns with broken valves, these are common sights in many school band rooms, especially for schools in the inner city.
So imagine how excited the kids at Norland Middle were when they walked into their band room and saw a huge pile of boxes in the middle of the room. It was Christmas in October: the boxes were filled with brand-new instruments, and the kids dove into the pile, pulling out shiny new trombones, tubas, trumpets, drums, and clarinets. $72,000 worth of musical equipment, delivered in one day.
This was the first installment of the Harmony Project, the brainchild of Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
"All kids should have the same, equal access to greatness, and music is part of that greatness," Carvalho said, explaining the basis for the Project.
Carvalho carved out $500,000 from the budget to spread music to schools in disadvantaged areas. Right now, seven schools in two feeder patterns, those of Norland High School and Northwestern High School, are receiving the musical infusion. These are schools in which many students can't afford their own instruments, and there are no wealthy PTSA groups to raise money for the band.
"I think the more you invest in your children, the return on that investment is something that you cannot put a price tag on," said Ronald Redmon, the principal at Norland Middle.
It's not just new instruments. The schools are also getting new sheet music and laptop computers loaded with Smart Music software which helps students learn to play.
"If you look at these kids now and you see the excitement that they have, they can’t wait to play the instruments, so it’s gonna help the program in the long run," said Dr. Damon Richardson, band director at Norland Middle.
For many kids, this will be the first time they'll be able to take instruments home with which to practice their skills. Carvalho says in addition to becoming better musicians, research shows that students who play music tend to do better in other academic areas as well. So there are plenty of benefits to justify the investment in music. That's why Carvalho is planning on expanding the Harmony Project to other schools in coming years.