Pilot after-school program helps Muskegon students ‘tune up’

Courtesy Carla Flanders

A new music-based elementary program is offering underserved students free instruments and music lessons in a group-based environment with experienced teachers. 

The West Michigan Symphony (WMS) is launching a pilot program called Tune Up through Muskegon’s Marquette and Oakview elementary schools. 

This free program, led by Lauren Garza, will offer aspiring young musicians enrolled in the 21st Century Community Learning Center’s (21stCCLC) Impact after-school program their own stringed instrument and group lessons with a certified teacher two times a week. Students will learn how to play the instrument, participate in ensembles, build friendships and receive academic support throughout their learning journey. Students also will have concert experiences and will meet professional musicians and artists. 

Tune Up is the debut partnership between WMS, Muskegon Public Schools (MPS) and 21stCCLC’s Impact program. 

“Because of the Tune Up program, students will receive several years of instrumental string music instruction while still in elementary school, which will encourage them to progress more quickly and help them prepare for middle and high school orchestra,” said MPS Director of Orchestra Nick Voyt. “The Tune Up program is the first step to offering instrumental string music in our elementary schools and provides an exceptionally valuable opportunity for students where there currently is none.”

Tune Up will pilot at Marquette and Oakview elementary schools during the 2022-23 academic year. In subsequent years, it is planned to expand into other elementary schools and beyond.

Tune Up is based on El Sistema, a global orchestra movement founded in Venezuela in 1975 that provides instrumental music education to underserved youth, developing necessary life skills and habits. The umbrella organization El Sistema USA lists similar programs throughout the U.S. — including Kalamazoo and Pontiac. Tune Up will be the first El Sistema program in West Michigan.

Enrollment for this program is open through the end of the month for 21stCCLC’s Impact program members. 

21stCCLC is a state program supporting the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students an array of enrichment activities that complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.

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