The middle school students in the program join the Mater Dei High School band — a close-knit group of about 50 — for several performances throughout the year.
To form a cohesive unit among students from a variety of schools and ages, Taylor Smith — director of the Music Academy and associate band director at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California — created a mentorship program.
High schoolers, many who were once Music Academy students, partner with the younger musicians during weekly practice sessions. They work with the middle schoolers in their instrument sections on basic fundamental skills. The high school students receive service hours by participating in the mentor program.
"Even just sitting in the [younger] ensemble and playing along with them really helps," Smith says. "The older students are working with students who are often just trying to make a sound. They get to inspire those students in getting comfortable with playing."
This kind of student leadership reflects Mater Dei High School's goal to "consistently raise the bar through positive reinforcement and motivation," says Fernando Martinez, director of instrumental music at Mater Dei High School.
Music Academy students perform with the high school band at a football game in November, a Christmas concert, and at the high school choir concert, at which the high school band also participates, in March.
Smith hopes the mentor program perpetuates itself: As mentors become seniors and graduate, the incoming freshmen become new mentors to the younger students.
"We depend on that family atmosphere," he says. "There's not a whole lot of needing to inspire these kids. They're just thankful to be here and perform with the high schoolers."
Photos Courtesy of Mater Dei High School
This article originally appeared in the 2019 V4 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here.