The Sound of Music

An orchestra teacher helps her students experience the joy of learning at any cost. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Sarah E. Azevedo

CREDIT Sarah Azevedo E Palo Alto orchestra.pngNavigating the education field can be challenging anywhere. In East Palo Alto, California, we face issues that are unmatched in neighboring areas: we have funding limits, we work with students who require a great deal of support both academically, emotionally, and economically, and the harsh reality of single parents who work multiple jobs to support their families is a very real challenge. To many, this can be a daunting endeavor that is not worth the effort, but to me it means so much more.

I adamantly refuse to let money be the reason my students don’t get to have or experience something.

I find my job to be challenging, yet very rewarding. Like many of my peers, my job is to provide a quality music education to my students. However, in my situation, I face many of these added dilemmas that can be very overwhelming at times. I don’t mean to paint my community in a bad light by any means; my students come from loving families, they come from robust heritages, and they are all fundamentally good kids. My school district is also very goal oriented and supportive of our kids. We believe in educating the whole child, and that is why wonderful programs like the arts are becoming a priority.

The most important part of my job is to provide a consistent, loving, and supportive environment where students can feel safe to make mistakes and where they can thrive. Sometimes this is more difficult than I’d like it to be.  Is it stressful? You bet it is. Do I struggle sometimes? Most definitely!

Are my kids worth my time and effort? Every bit of it.

Teaching in Title I schools is not new to me, as I’ve spent the duration of my career working with kids in these districts. I transitioned to the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto a few years ago and it has been quite the adventure.

Our kids come from homes that often struggle to pay rent and provide the basic needs for their families, so in order for my kids to be able to participate, I need to provide everything from books, and supplies to the actual instruments they play in class.

My district has invested a great deal into our programs, but music programs are expensive to maintain, so I’ve found myself writing grants quite frequently and finding local volunteers and organizations to help support our program as much as possible.

I adamantly refuse to let money be the reason my students don’t get to have or experience something. One of my biggest successes in Ravenswood has been the relationship I have cultivated with a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit (Donors Choose) throughout my tenure here.  It’s an online platform where teachers can request materials, field trips, guest visitors, and other things they need for their students.

I have received an amazing amount of support from the platform and developed partnerships with companies like Yamaha that have also been very supportive. This year, through a partnership with, Yamaha Band and Orchestral division donated violins to my school and brought violinist Lindsey Stirling to my students for an inspiring performance.

Fundraising isn’t really an option for my kids because my community would struggle to be contribute financially, so I find other resources like local grant opportunities and nationwide musical organizations. I would encourage other teachers in my situation to reach out to organizations like Rotary and the Lions Club and if you’re in an Urban situation like me, find the wealthy companies and discuss partnerships, too.

The bottom line is that the money is available for our students, sometimes we just have find it.

I have very high hopes for my kids and I will do whatever I can to help make sure they can experience the joy of music and have success in my classroom. At the end of the day, it’s very gratifying knowing that I’m making a difference in the lives of these young people.

As an educator who works with students in a Title I community, I feel the gravity of the current funding situation in California. The Arts have made a huge comeback in my district in the past 3-5 years, the most impressive example being that we started our band program back up after more than a decade without it, and now we have also added an Orchestra as well.

As a band and orchestra teacher, I’m thrilled to be a part of this movement, but I am also very aware that our program is still heavily funded by outside sources.

Years ago, I remember seeing programs get butchered due to budget constraints; while I know that I’m supported and appreciated, the potential for budget cuts is always scary. I value music and the arts and what it can do for our kids. Our nation’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. I encourage everyone to get out into your communities and help support these young people.

Of course I want you to find a music teacher and help them, but ultimately, I want you to find a teacher to help support in a content area that you believe in or are passionate about. Volunteer your time in your community to help provide a positive role model for these kids. No matter the community you live in, I beg you to please help us shape the lives of our kids; it’s a tough job, but we owe it to ourselves and our future to make sure we do this right!

Sarah E. Azevedo is Director of Bands and Orchestras at the
Ravenswood City School District
in East Palo Alto, CA. Help her class here



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