DENVER (CBS4) – Everyday the music room at Denver’s Bruce Randolph School is filled with the sounds of violins, basses, saxophones and other instruments.
While common in most schools in Colorado, it’s a relatively new phenomenon at Bruce Randolph.
“We didn’t have a music program for a long time. And when I would pass by the music room which was converted to a math room, it was really sad,” said Cesar Cedillo, the principal of Bruce Randolph.
Cedillo has been with the school since before President Barack Obama made a reference to the school in his 2011 State of the Union address.
“I would see the cellos on the top just collecting dust. So I knew I had to do something but I didn’t know what,” said Cedillo.
Around that time, Cedillo received a call from Monika Vischer, the board and co-founder of El Sistema, who is also the program director at Colorado Public Radio Classical.
“I called Cesar the principal and said you have this funding that is coming your way so why don’t you let us help you out. And so he said ‘okay, let’s do it,'” said Vischer.
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Vischer’s idea was to bring a unique program known as El Sistema to Colorado for the first time.
“El Sistema was started 45 years ago by Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela. He wanted to bring kids off the drug infested, violent streets there,” said Vischer. “It has since grown to be an international phenomenon. Grass roots programs, dozens of them, have started all over the country. I saw that nobody had brought it here to Denver and I happened to be in a good position to start it with a couple of other people.”
Since 2012, El Sistema has impacted the lives of over 1,000 students at three schools in northeast Denver within the Globeville, Swansea, and Elyria neighborhoods.
“There’s a lot of pressure on these families in these particular neighborhoods in this part of Denver where rents are doubling and tripling,” said Vischer. “We’ve had families say ‘I’m doing what it takes to stay in the neighborhood just so my kids can stay in El Sistema.'”
“El Sistema to me is a group where you can be who you are, and not be afraid of what others think,” said Amaris Casillas, a seventh grade student at Bruch Randolph. She enjoys El Sistema so much she has decided to pursue music as a career.
“I want to travel around the world playing in orchestras and symphonys, and then I want to settle and probably become a music teacher,” she said.
Her mom, Victoria, remembers when she first heard about the program.
“When my daughter brought in the paperwork that she wanted to join El Sistema it was great to see her excitement. She was beyond excited. She’s like ‘mom, I know what I want to do after school. I’m going to start playing an instrument.’” That instrument was the violin.
It just spoke to me. I looked at it, and I looked at the other instruments and I was like, no, that’s my calling,” said Casillas.
And it turns out, ensemble music is a calling for a lot of kids at Bruce Randolph.
Principal Cedillo said, “What we’re seeing now are students who are pumped about being in music. Where in the past, we weren’t reaching those students. We’ve seen a really big improvement in behavior, attendance, and engagement.”
“As great as science and math and reading and writing is in the school day, you’ve got to have that creative infusion to support the rest of learning to make a holistic experience for any child,” said Vischer.
Amaris’s mom said, “My daughter is truly a different child from what she was four years ago and I can tell you it’s because of El Sistema.”