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Making Music Count for OC Students

Making Music Count for OC Students

By Shelley Hoss

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below.

Music is a birthright.

It is this passionate belief of Carl St. Clair, Pacific Symphony’s Music Director, that has driven the organization’s outreach to Orange County educators, parents and students through its Class Act program for the past 20 years. 

Beyond exposing elementary school students to symphonic music — most for the first time — Class Act is changing lives. At a time when many students feel awkward about fitting in, they are gaining a community fused by mutual appreciation of music. 

And for some students, Class Act reveals a career path they never knew existed. 

Halle Davis is one such student. When she and her family moved from Chicago to San Clemente, she gained her first exposure to music education at Clarence Lobo Elementary School, a Class Act site. 

“It got me motivated,” Davis said. “I felt like something clicked for me, and I’ve never looked back.” Halle is set to finish her master’s program in music education this July and plans to be a teacher.

Susan Miller Kotses, Pacific Symphony’s vice president of education and community engagement, shares such student experiences with enthusiasm. 
“You feel like, ‘wow,’ this is part of a school’s culture now,” Kotses said. “That’s when I feel like we’ve been successful. When educators and students celebrate that music and art are important to them.” 

And data supports their enthusiasm. According to Stand Up 4 Music, students enrolled in music have a strong correlation to higher GPAs, test higher on SAT/ACT college entrance exams, have a lower drop-out rate, are more engaged in school, demonstrate greater creativity, and develop leadership and teamwork skills. 

Each year, students work with a Pacific Symphony musician who serves as a Class Act teaching artist. Activities include classroom lessons, ensemble performances, assemblies and a youth concert at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall for older students or an interactive performance on-site for younger students. 

The lineup every year features the music of one Class Act Composer of the Year. This year, Leonard Bernstein — Carl St. Clair’s own mentor — is the focus. 

During this academic year, Class Act will fuel the imagination of more than 16,000 elementary school students from 30 schools across the socioeconomic spectrum of Orange County. 

Stoddard Elementary School in Anaheim is just one of their participants. 

“The Pacific Symphony musicians who come out become rock stars to our students,” said Principal Dale Hillyer. “They realize there are possibilities beyond pop music or hip hop.” 

In fact, Class Act provided the impetus last year for this Title 1 school to create its own after-school orchestra program to fuel students’ interest. In existence for only two years, 160 fourth, fifth and sixth graders have already enrolled.

“We’re working with inner-city kids and introducing them to opportunities outside of their communities,” Hillyer said. “Before, they didn’t know about the possibilities that music can offer. Now a whole new world has opened up for them.” 

Visit Nonprofit Central to learn more about Pacific Symphony and other local nonprofits inspiring a love of the arts for Orange County students.


Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected]

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