ASO Sympatico

Academic Enrichment Grant 2019-2020 Project Summary

Melinda Kernc

John Adams Elementary School • Alexandria, VA

ASO Sympatico is a before- and after-school music education program underwritten by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO) at John Adams Elementary School (Alexandria City Public Schools). The inspiration for Sympatico was born out of the ASO’s commitment to education, the youth of Alexandria, and social change. The ASO established Sympatico five years ago after concluding that an El Sistema-inspired program would best accomplish three components of the ASO’s mission of “strengthening music education in our schools, fostering a life-long appreciation of music, and expanding the availability of quality music to underserved audiences.” John Adams Elementary School (JAES) is a Title I Targeted Assistance school with 74% of students qualifying for free or reduced-cost meals. Many JAES parents work multiple jobs, creating a need for before- and after-school childcare. Sympatico provides a safe, secure and enriching learning experience for these students. All instruction, instruments and performance opportunities are provided at no cost to enrolled students, and there are no pre-requisites for enrollment. The program is fully funded by the nonprofit Alexandria Symphony Orchestra through grants and individual donors. El Sistema originated 44 years ago as a music education initiative in Venezuela, in which students receive free high-quality music instruction with the goal of social change. Sympatico conforms to the founding principles of El Sistema programs: equitable access to students regardless of income; intensive and high-quality music instruction; the use of an ensemble as the main learning environment; community and family engagement; and social change. El Sistema-inspired programs such as Sympatico now serve underrepresented minorities and at-risk youth in 80 cities across the U.S. Since Sympatico’s official launch in 2014, the program has grown to include six ensembles—Cantamos (chorus), The Percussion Experience (bucket band), Horns A Plenty (beginning brass using pTrumpets), The Fiddle Factory (strings), XyloKids (beginning Orff instruments), and The Mallet Machine (intermediate Orff)—serving 125 students in grades K-5. Each ensemble meets every day, either before or after school—instruction that is in addition to music classes that are part of the regular school curriculum. According to its mission, Sympatico seeks “to create safe spaces within which students can take risks and make strong choices, promote student ownership of their role in an interdependent ensemble, and increase musical opportunity for underrepresented minorities and at-risk youth in Alexandria public schools.” Sympatico participates in more than 30 performances per year, both in school and in the Alexandria community. Past performances have occurred at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, the Torpedo Factory Arts Center, the Alexandria City Council Inauguration, and the National Teachers of the Year celebrations. Sympatico ensembles have also performed alongside various performing groups and soloists, including the Alexandria Choral Society and the Virginia Bronze. Sympatico received a Mayoral proclamation in 2016 in recognition of its contributions and service to the youth of Alexandria City.

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