MAKING A DIFFERENCE
It may sound cliché to say that music is the universal language, but Victoria Lanier, a music educator, believes it to be true. She also believes music is life.
As the founder of Education Through Music – Los Angeles (ETM-LA), a nonprofit that partners with inner-city schools to provide music as a core subject for all children and utilizes music education as a catalyst to improve academic achievement, motivation for school and self–confidence, Lanier believes music is the key to all learning, which is why the program’s mission includes providing and promoting the integration of music into the curricula of disadvantaged schools.
The program, which she launched in 2006, is the West Coast equivalent of the New York Education Through Music program Lanier formerly worked for as a program coordinator and teaching artist. ETM-LA includes weekly, yearlong music instruction in disciplines that include violin, guitar, recorder, cello, chorus, band, ukulele and general music.
If it was up to Lanier, every school — in Los Angeles and across the country — would have a music program as part of its curriculum.
“Music education for children is a passion of mine,” said Lanier, a New Jersey native. “It started when I was working in inner-city New York schools.”
When she moved to Los Angeles in 2003, Lanier said she wondered why there was no Education Through Music in schools. She knew there was a need for comprehensive in-school music programs, but at the time, the Los Angeles Unified School District wasn’t hiring. Undeterred, she resolved to bring music to underserved students.
A violinist who performs in occasional concert assemblies supported by other nonprofits, Lanier said after her performances she would invariably be asked why children in schools didn’t have music programs and whether or not she could help in that regard. That’s when she “decided to do something about it.”
“This was too important, said Lanier, who has performed with several music artists including Kanye West and Mary J Blige. “There was really a need. Education should be well rounded. Music should be a part of that. It is a core subject.
“The program ensures that every child has an opportunity. We typically serve people of color. We can help school districts build a structure to include music in the arts. We are a voice for those who don’t have a seat at the table.”
ETM-LA’s goal is to ensure that every child has access to a complete and comprehensive standards-based music education by forming partnerships with low-income elementary and middle schools that lack the resources for school-wide music programs and creating individualized plans with specific objectives that include ongoing assessment and mentorship.
Part of Lanier’s strategy is to start a conversation about the school system and the quality of education, thereby, she hopes, leading to change.
“Our goal is to not only showcase what music education looks like but to advocate this as a way to really change the system and to change what we see as quality education,” Lanier said. “Communities can be turned around.”
Lanier said from an educator’s standpoint music unlocks learning and provides key life skills that can be transformed and applied to all forms of a child’s life.
“I know who I am today is because of music,” she said. “I owe my life to music lessons. It’s been a voice for me when I didn’t always have the words. It was there when I needed to express something. It builds self-confidence. Music is the universal connector.”
“There is a universality,” said Jacquie Henderson, ETM-LA’s development director. “Everybody can be a part of this in some way. Everyone connects to something whether it’s rap, jazz or any genre. It creates a community and an understanding and an outlet.”
Lanier offered stunning statistics regarding ETM’s impact on schools and students.
She pointed out that 21 out of 21 schools in the ETM-LA program showed noticeable improvement academically after only one year of adding the music curriculum.
There were excellent results at McKinley Elementary School in Compton where Jennifer Moon has been the principal for the last six years.
“The principal at McKinley said there were some significant changes in attendance and in language arts,” said Lanier, who went to Princeton and earned a master’s in music education from Columbia University. “All we did was add music. It becomes a catalyst for kids to be motivated to come to school. The principal has a lot to do with it. They are the leaders who set the tone.”
“Music has significantly done so much for our students,” Moon said. “When I started six years ago, the math proficiency rate was 7%. That meant 93% of the students were failing. Plus, the attendance rate was low.
“Now we are number two in the district out of 20 elementary schools in math and English language arts. We went from 91.5% to 98% in the attendance rate. We only have 5% chronic absences. I believe the music changed the culture of our school. ETM-LA has blessed our school with music programs. The whole atmosphere has changed. Students think school is fun now.”
Lanier said most of the schools came on board as a result of word of mouth.
“They are hearing about the impact and how it’s transforming some schools,” she said. “It’s remarkable that people are knocking at our door saying they want the program. The schools are knocking on our door.”
With years of experience to her credit, Lanier has learned and seen firsthand how much music education helps develop self-discipline, respect and understanding of others.
Lanier credits an “amazing team” with the program’s success.
“There is an amazing team of people who are hard workers making this happen,” she said. “It takes a dedicated team of individuals committed to our community. Music education is restored as a right to every student. They do not have to be able to afford the program.”
On Nov. 10, ETM-LA will hold its 14th annual Benefit Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Beverly Hills to raise support for music in schools and to honor those whose contributions through music have positively impacted lives. A number of supporters will be honored during the event including Emmy Award-winning music director, composer and producer Rickey Minor, music educator Angela Woo and Cusumano Real Estate Group.
“We are recognizing them because of the way that they do their philanthropic arm,” said Lanier, who is hoping to raise $500,000. “They do this out of the kindness of their hearts.”
The funds raised, which will help with instrument costs, and music instructors, will also help ETM-LA expand to 2,500 more students.
“I am determined to make sure we have a wide array of support,” Henderson said. “People in the community are invested in our program. We get a lot of government support. These kids get to do something not academically driven. If they get an opportunity to perform this way, they think they can do other things and be successful. Music is something they can connect to.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making A Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Darlene Donloe