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Student Bruno Bello recalls how difficult it was to find something that was both challenging and enjoyable. He wasn’t into sports, and he wasn’t into school. The year was 2010, and he was despondent about the divorce of his parents. Then, he discovered music. It changed his life, he says, in ways he could not have imagined.

Bruno was in the first group of District elementary students who began learning classical music after-school through the Community Opus program, the District arts initiative in partnership with the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory. Community Opus drew its inspiration from the El Sistema movement in music education and social change that first began in Venezuela.

“Before I had music, I was having trouble. I didn’t see the point of doing homework or paying attention at school,” Bruno recalled.

Now in middle school in the Sweetwater Union High School District, Bruno is taking honors classes and earning “A’s” on his report card. His story was featured in a YouTube video, courtesy of The NAMM Foundation, that was presented recently as part of the youth symphony’s annual update to CVESD’s Board.

“It can change your life a lot. It can give you hope, to know that if you really want something, you can make it,” Bruno said about music education.

Students from the District’s after-school band and orchestra performed prior to the Board’s May 6 meeting at the Education Service and Support Center. Bruno’s budding music career began when he was in fourth grade at J. Calvin Lauderbach Elementary. His story helps inspire today’s generation of Community Opus students, the ones new to an instrument much like Bruno had been.

“Music is a unifying medium that solidifies knowledge, and the quest for knowledge,” said Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D. “Music is a way for students to open up their understanding of math in a conceptual way, as well as enhance their natural creativity. They learn not only to play an instrument, but also to work as a team. Kids create intense relationships with one another as they practice and perform together.”

Initially, the Community Opus Project began at Otay and Lauderbach elementary schools, and soon grew to six campuses in the District: Harborside, Lauderbach, Otay, Lilian J. Rice, Rosebank, and Vista Square. Because of the success of the after-school program, the District worked on adding music instruction to the school day with the help of the youth symphony. In-school music instruction is taking place for 3,000 students at the initial six campuses. The work has been boosted by a partnership with VH1 Save The Music Foundation, which provides District schools with $30,000 each in musical instruments—with the stipulation that they employ a full-time music instructor to provide music education as part of the school day.

In addition, students from across the District have the opportunity to perform in the Community Opus orchestra, band, and choir at three schools: Kellogg, Vista Square, and Palomar.

The partnership has attracted the attention of school districts, arts enthusiasts, and music educators from across the country. It is hailed as a model for introducing low-income/at-risk youth to music and restoring music education in schools following years of cuts to the arts. The Yale School of Music is honoring the District with the Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award. The School of Music selected CVESD to participate in its fifth Symposium on Music in Schools, which takes place June 4–7, 2015 on the Yale campus.

During the 2014-15 school year, the District began implementation of the VAPA Strategic Arts Education Plan for the purpose of bringing arts education into District classrooms. Schools and teachers have participated in professional development and other activities throughout the year to support student learning through VAPA. For example, 42 teachers from across the District learned fundamentals of visual arts while developing state standards aligned, integrated arts lessons in a series of Saturday workshops with the California Arts Project.

San Diego Youth Symphony