Mission Ridge music program earns Carnegie Hall grant

Mission Ridge Elementary School’s after school music class, Tocando, has been awarded a grant by the Carnegie Hall Foundation through the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. It is one of only three programs across the nation to receive the funds.

The non-profit program that offers underserved students exposure to the arts began in August at Mission Ridge. Thirty-five third graders spend from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. four days a week learning to play the cello and violin. The program is also offered at El Paso Independent School District’s Hart Elementary School.

“My vision was to offer these students programs like other schools. I wanted these kids to be able to get a taste of what the arts can bring to them,” said Principal Rosy Vega-Barrio. “Not many of them get that chance. We are thrilled and humbled to be a part of this.”

With the help of SISD’s Fine Arts Director, Donald Rominsky, she heard about Tocando and applied for the program.

“The symphony people were great,” she said. “They walked around the school and we drove through the Sparks area. They strongly believed Tocando would be a good fit here.”

EPSO’s Executive Director Ruth Ellen Jacobson agreed. She is thrilled the program is receiving funds from the Carnegie Hall.

“We were one out of three chosen. Do you know how many groups applied for the grant?” Jacobson said. “Lots and lots of orchestras and organizations applied.”

Phil Bravo, senior manager of secondary school projects for the Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, said the foundation is proud and happy with the partnership. The grant, called PlayUSA, is a new initiative by Carnegie. The hope is to increase access to music for low income children.

“This can change the life of these children,” said Bravo, who was in El Paso recently to observe the program. “It is cultivating that seed for music and breaking the stereotypes of communities. That’s what I see this program here doing that. There is a strong bond between the school and the community. We are here to see what else we can do for the program.”

The children at Mission Ridge are learning about music from Alejandro Gonzalez, a cello player from Columbia, who really believes in the Tocando program.

“This is how I learned about music when I was in school,” said Gonzalez, a cellist who plays with the symphony. “It was a program like this one, but in Columbia. My students here love it.”

Vega-Barrio has already seen the benefits of the class. Two weeks ago, she attended the symphony and noticed she was not the only Mission Ridge person there.

“I saw three families from the program at the symphony,” Vega said. “One of the parents came up to me later and said, ‘We didn’t know about this!’ This program is opening up doors. It will change lives. This is what I hoped for my students.”

Eight-year-old Destiny Hernandez is learning to play the cello. She can play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and saw the Eastlake High School orchestra perform recently.

“I really love it,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t know what a cello was. But I do now. I want to be a cellist when I grow up.”

Author: Socorro ISD