The group that convened at the Arts Learning Exchange in San Diego came from diverse backgrounds and organizations--from school districts, to city arts councils, to El Sistema-inspired programs, to a variety of arts education nonprofits. It was refreshing to broaden our perspectives of the larger world of education and arts education. I only observed the word "El Sistema" mentioned a few times in the two days that I was there, although it was inevitable that the Sistema folks found each other, brainstorming how to connect the knowledge and our ideas to our specific programs. Chula Vista School District has gone from 0 to 70 arts and music teachers in just a few years, and San Diego is starting down a similar path, as well as collaborating with various arts organizations and teaching artists. Additionally, the Community Opus Project, San Diego Youth Symphony's El Sistema-inspired program, serves hundreds of kids after school where they receive even more intensive and in depth instruction.
Amidst the many partnerships, initiatives, and programs, it was important to distinguish between the different kinds (and intentions) of the student learning experiences. Arts integration, where artistic mediums are woven into various school subjects (e.g. science, language arts) to further mastery of the subject, was an effective way to employ and engage teaching artists and outside arts organizations (while raising student achievement). After observing a theater teaching artist working with a first grade language arts class, I began to wonder if any teaching artists from my particular program could ever take on a similar role, in addition to their after school work, in order to create more job opportunities and utilize their skills. It was pointed out that arts integration, while effective and necessary to enhance school learning, was not a replacement for arts education (i.e. the traditional music or art classes that have been cut from schools in recent years).
The seventy arts and music teachers that have been hired in Chula Vista work during the school day, teaching skill-based arts and music classes that schools so desperately need. While the Sistema discussion in the U.S. has often referenced filling the gaps that exist as a result of the lack of these school day programs, after school El Sistema-inspired programs are not the solution or replacement. They are the third type of student learning: in depth, transformative music practice and performance. There was overlap in teaching artists between the school music education programs and teaching artists in the Community Opus Project, which provided for a stronger partnership and continuity between the school day and after school.
What struck me most was the strength and number of private-public partnerships in both the Chula Vista and San Diego school districts. Each type of learning was important and empowering, and each entity seems to understand that they hold a unique role in the community. No one can be everything, but everyone can be something--and the combined strengths have a powerful effect.
Andrea Landin, Sistema Fellow '13