FETC 2020: Districts of Distinction grand prize honoree is San Gabriel USD

A music immersion program has helped to close achievement gaps and improve learning outcomes by teaching students music every day
By: | January 15, 2020
The sound of success—Grades are up and disciplinary incidents are down at San Gabriel USD’s Roosevelt Elementary School, thanks to the Music Immersion Experience program, which provides a creative outlet.

With approximately 90% of its students categorized as “unduplicated” (a socioeconomically disadvantaged student, English language learner and/or foster youth), Roosevelt Elementary School in San Gabriel USD lacked equity, access and achievement. Numerous intervention strategies were ineffective.

However, in 2015, the Southern California school launched the Music Immersion Experience (MIE), which was recognized as the grand prize winner in District Administration’s 2019 Districts of Distinction program.

During FETC® 2020, the district’s leaders were honored for their efforts, and also presented an overview of the innovative program—based on the El Sistema program—to attendees. 

Every student who enrolls at the school participates in MIE. All students learn to play the violin beginning in first grade, and they can switch to a brass, woodwind or other string instrument in fourth grade. Students perform at school and in the community several times throughout the school year.

District music specialists also instruct students each day in instrumental, choral and general music, using classical and contemporary pieces. Students can choose an elective such as improvisation and composition, guitar, ukulele, rock band, mariachi band, hand bell choir, dance, and Latin percussion.

“The intent is not to have this super ensemble,” said Gary Scott, San Gabriel USD superintendent. “The intent is to have this remarkable elixir for brain development.” 

Joined by Samantha Thiesen, the district’s visual and performing arts program administrator, and Cheryl Wilson, Roosevelt Elementary principal, Scott also discussed how teaching music involves other key developmental areas, such as math education, collaboration, problem-solving and creativity. 

In addition to explaining how the program is administered, Thiesen showed a short video overview that featured students playing violins and guitars, and singing together.

To accommodate the program, San Gabriel USD educators had to lengthen the school day.

As a result of MIE, students’ test scores continue to improve, both overall and among each demographic subgroup. As of last summer, the percentage of Roosevelt Elementary third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who have met or exceeded the standards on the Smarter Balanced Assessment’s English Language Arts exam had increased 27 points since the program began. Math scores have increased by 15 points. Discipline incidents that require administrative action dropped by 75%.


More: How music immersion closes achievement gaps


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