This past spring, a small group of musicians, educators and philanthropists – including Potomac Arts Academy staff and board members – traveled to Costa Rica on a mission. They had been invited by SINEM Academic Director Ernesto Brenes to visit their arts-based outreach programs and explore ways that Mason and SINEM might collaborate to bring hope through music to challenged communities in the region.
Out of this trip and the ensuing meetings, on-site program visits, discussions and brainstorming, the new “International Teachings Scholars” program was born: a multi-faceted partnership between Mason’s School of Music, Mason’s Potomac Arts Academy, the Instituto Nacional de la Musica in San Jose, El Sistema Nacional de Educación Musical (SINEM), Leon 13 and Conservatorio de Castella.
Many communities in and around San Jose strive with poverty and crime. Within these communities, children and families struggle with basic needs, let alone access to arts education. The SINEM program is a multi-group effort that is seeking to not only bring meaningful arts education to this population, but to allow the transformative power of the arts to give hope and inspiration to these communities in profound ways.
“It would be hard to describe in English or Spanish the impact our trip to Costa Rica had on me personally,” explained Day Violins co-owner and Potomac board member Jenna Day. “Passion for music transcends all languages and borders and social classes and it was never more clear than when we were in the midst of the wonderful teachers and children of Costa Rica.”
“My most memorable moment of the trip was when we were at the final school visit, and I apologetically handed one of the orchestra teachers a small bag of violin strings. She immediately burst into tears and hugged me so tightly that I also became emotional. My small (and to me insignificant) contribution meant so much more to her. It made me realize how even a little can go a long way.”
“Another powerful moment was looking at the neighborhood at the first school visit. The neighborhood was built on top of a garbage dump and yet these children faithfully showed up for music and art lessons. They knew they could rise above their circumstances when given the chance.”
Participation and attendance are high in these SINEM schools, and the humble program facilities are often considered “safe zones” in the communities they serve. Music, visual art and dance classes and lessons are provided to kids and teens. In fact, the programs are so popular, that instruments and supplies quickly fall short of demand. Furthermore, the wonderful instructors often need more training to be more effective as educators. That’s where the Academy’s Instruments in the Attic program and Mason School of Music’s “International Teaching Scholars” program come in!
“On our initial trip to Costa Rica, we saw amazing music outreach programs in under-served communities and the positive changes that these programs bring to so many lives,” said Potomac Arts Academy director Libby Curtis. “But we also saw the need for more instruments and support so that more students can participate. The ‘International Teaching Scholars’ program will be a life-changing experience for our Mason students by connecting instruments from Instruments in the Attic to these programs and providing opportunities to learn from each other through the language of music.”
An official academic program of Mason’s School of Music, the “International Teaching Scholars” program is a two-week summer intensive, wherein a select group of Mason Music students will travel to Costa Rica for a two-pronged objective. The first week, the Mason students will learn, rehearse and perform alongside their peers at the Nacional Instituto de la Musica in San Jose – a form of musical cultural exchange. The second week, the Mason students will enjoy a rich experience of working closely with SINEM school teachers and students in the local communities. They will also deliver donated musical instruments from the Academy’s Instruments in the Attic program and coordinate with Day Violins to help repair and maintain the instruments. Special performances will complete each week.
“This is a unique program that only Mason can provide,” said Mason Music professor and Potomac board member John Kilkenny. “While we know it will be transformative for many students in Costa Rica – we have no doubt it will also be our students who are changed!”
“[This project is] truly making a difference. . . a transformational difference in the lives of our Mason Music students and in the lives of the music students we touch in Costa Rica,” said Mason School of Music director Linda Monson.
The inaugural group of “International Teaching Scholars” is scheduled to go to Costa Rica in May 2017. More updates to follow!
See Video about the SINEM program in Costa Rica (video is in Spanish):