A collaborative effort between three schools at the University of Michigan has resulted in the launch a local pilot version of Venezuela’s internationally renowned El Sistema music education program, which is credited with transforming the lives of young people around the world. The School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the School of Social Work, and the School of Education have come together to conceptualize and design the program, which will provide intensive music training for Ann Arbor-area children while offering exceptional research and teaching opportunities for U-M students.
Building upon the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative (MSTLC), a multi-faceted partnership between the U-M School of Education, Mitchell Elementary School, and Scarlett Middle School in southeast Ann Arbor, the El Sistema initiative complements other extended-day and extended-year programs offered through MSTLC.
The pilot El Sistema program will allow graduate students from U-M's School of Music, Theatre & Dance to work with members of Mitchell Elementary's fifth grade string program. The children will meet 90 minutes a day after school, four days a week, receiving intensive instruction that combines full ensemble rehearsals with sectionals, partner lessons, and individual lessons. The program provides SMTD students with the opportunity to work in a socially, economically, and linguistically diverse context; to enact pedagogies with direct feedback on their work; and to see the impact of arts engagement on the overall achievement and well-being of students in the academic and social life of the school.
Meanwhile, students from the U-M School of Social Work will conduct research throughout the project, measuring the children's music competency, academic performance, personal responsibility, interpersonal relationships, sense of belonging, school-family connections, and school pride.
The pilot El Sistema program is supported by President Coleman's "Third Century Initiative," designed to give U-M students learning experiences in the community, with additional support provided by Jerry and Helga Bilik, both U-M alums. Plans to expand the program to other schools and communities will be assessed following the conclusion of the pilot program.
The new U-M El Sistema program was recently discussed on the Michigan Public Radio program Stateside, with host Cynthia Canty interviewing John Ellis, SMTD director of community and prepartory programs, and Horacio Contreras Espinoza, a SMTD graduate student teacher in the program.