Joshua Simonds is the Executive Director of Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras and a member of Ingenuity’s Advocacy Panel. Here, he shares a success story from CYSO’s Music Pathways Community Engagement Program:

Successful partnership stories often follow a formula. An under-resourced school partners with a community arts provider and they form a relationship that grows and flourishes in perpetuity. We, as community partners may foster this construct by thinking that if a school truly recognizes the impact of our work, a shift will be made in the school’s priorities to put our programs at the center of their planning. I’d like to challenge us to see success in a variety of ways, which may actually include leaving.

For example, from 2012 to 2015, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO) partnered with Holden Elementary School in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. The partnership was part of our Music Pathways Community Engagement Program, a three-year residency program engaging 1st through 4th grade classrooms at four Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

The curriculum was specifically designed to introduce 3rd and 4th grade students to the basics of instrumental performance. We also focused on professional development and arts integration for 1st and 2nd grade teachers, and provided six live instrumental performances for 3rd and 4th grade students in each residency year.

When CYSO first started at Holden, the school did not have a music program. By the third year of the residency program, Holden’s administration made the decision to invest in a full-time music teacher.  A survey of parents and students led to a guitar program designed to serve the most children—today that program serves more than 100 students.

Holden’s decision showed a positive shift in the school community’s belief in the value of music education and its positive, long-term impact on children. Although CYSO was not to be directly involved with the program at Holden, we were elated to see Holden’s administration make the extra effort and investment for the school community.

While Holden had a strong interest in a continued partnership with CYSO, we acknowledged that our efforts and resources should be directed toward a new school where we might foster decisions similar to those made at Holden.  After all, there are still CPS schools without an established music program, and it is important for those schools that we continue on to our next successful partnership.

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