Spotlight on the Community Opus Project

Until a few years ago, San Diego’s Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD) had no music program to speak of: the school district had cut music education from most of its 45 schools, and no longer employed a full-time music instructor. As a result, organizations like the San Diego Youth Symphony (SDYS)—an NEA grantee—saw greater enrollment as many parents turned to private instruction for their children. But what about those who couldn’t afford private lessons, or lacked a means of transportation to get to them? Concerned about this gap in access, SDYS founded the Community Opus Project in 2010 with a vision “to make music education affordable and accessible to all children.” Working with CVESD, Community Opus was established at two schools that first year, providing after-school instruction to 65 children. The district took notice of changes almost immediately: better behavior in the classrooms, fewer trips to the principal’s office, and increased parent engagement. The following year, they asked SDYS to implement Community Opus at four more schools, and by year three, SDYS began an in-school pilot program at a seventh school thanks to a Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Education. By 2014, Community Opus was reaching more than 3,000 students at 18 schools, and data collection has shown that program participants performed at higher levels than their peers.

But this is a story not just of individual impact, but of systemic change. In the end, Community Opus taught the school district as much as it did its students, providing lessons on the benefits of music education, and on how to structure an effective music education program. Seeing the benefits in its students, CVESD has made a commitment to return music instruction to all students by 2025, and music teachers have already been reinstated at a number of schools. In the edited interview below, SDYS President and CEO Dalouge Smith told us about the Community Opus Project, from its origins to why it works.

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