Photo courtesy EPISD

El Paso Symphony program at Hart, Guillen wins national award for social work

Tocando — the El Paso Symphony Orchestra’s music and performance program in partnership with Hart Elementary and Guillen Middle — is one of just five programs to receive national recognition for their social work.

The long-time program, which recently shifted from in-person after-school instruction to Zoom-based classes because of the pandemic, received the Manhattan Institute’s 2020 Civil Society award. It is one of five programs in the country to receive the award and the $25,000 prize.

“We’re thrilled,” said Ruth Ellen Jacobson, EPSO executive director. “It’s such a huge honor. I’m so proud of this program because it’s making such big difference in the lives of kids.”

The Civil Society Awards recognize nonprofit leaders who address social challenges and work toward a common purpose in their communities. More than 200 nominations from 37 states and 107 cities were considered this year.

The winners rely on philanthropy and volunteers—rather than government support—to empower the low-income communities and build relationships that support those in crisis in order to prepare the next generation of leaders that will realize their full potential.

Tocando empowers children in challenging social and economic conditions to improve their sense of community and opportunity. It uses music as a vehicle to build on teamwork, self-confidence, leadership and academic success.

The program began in 2013 at Hart Elementary providing students with instruments, music and instruction after school and grew as the students moved up to Guillen. More recently, the symphony expanded the program to Tornillo Elementary School in the Lower Valley.

“There are so many things about Tocando that are amazing,” Jacobson said. “We would love the kids to be musicians but that isn’t our goal. Our goal is to help these kids grow up to be well-rounded solid citizens with great knowledge of the resources in the community available and to look beyond where they are now. If they become musicians along the way, then that’s great.”

Tocando provides participants with opportunities for music camps and allows them to take part in the El Paso Symphony Youth Orchestra.

“The Tocando program is such an exceptional after school program that teaches Hart students music education,” Hart Principal Angelica Negrete said. “It is a fantastic way to learn about teamwork, self-confidence, leadership, and academic success while learning to play an instrument. We are so proud to have it offered here, and are so happy that the Tocando organization is receiving recognition for their dedication and commitment.”

Story by Reneé de Santos  |  EPISD