DOWNTOWN — Five Chicago public grade schools will have mariachi classes by next fall, a move that will require principals to add a full-time music position at each school.
The elementary schools include Joseph E. Gary Elementary in Little Village; Edward N. Hurley Fine and Performing Arts Magnet Cluster and Richard Edwards Elementary in Lawndale; and Davis Elementary and Calmeca Academy of Fine Arts and Dual Language in Brighton Park.
Mariachi classes will be offered at the schools as an elective, with students choosing between a traditional music class required by CPS or the mariachi program.
Starting with grades 3 through 6, students at those schools will receive a minimum of three classes per week during school hours, with an additional two days of classes after school. Eventually, classes will also be extended to seventh- and eighth-graders.
Students grades 3 to 5 will focus on classical violin instruction, with grades 6 to 8 choosing between melody (violin and trumpet) and rhythm (guitar, rhythm guitar and base guitar), according to Caesar Maldonado, founder of the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding mariachi music education in Chicago Public Schools.
Currently, all the schools but Gary Elementary have a full-time music post; the schools would be responsible for funding an additional full-time music teacher who also specializes in mariachi. Maldonado said all five schools were applying for a grant that would allocate more than $21 million in Tax Increment Financing dollars for teachers who provide arts and physical education programs within CPS schools.
In addition, the Mariachi Heritage Foundation must raise $20,000 to $40,000 for instruments and workbooks at each school. Maldonado said his group planned to add instruments and expand the program each year.
As part of raising those funds, on April 24-25, the Mariachi Heritage Foundation will hold two mariachi events at Mi Tierra restaurant, 2528 S. Kedzie Ave. The $50 ticket includes a night of performance from the Grammy Award-winning Mariachi Los Camperos, led by Natividad "Nati" Cano, a figurehead in recent mariachi history.
Maldonado said he was excited by the community support he had received so far.
“Spending time with the schools and family, you get a sense of the hunger for cultural programming like this,” Maldonado said. “It’s something they identify with, that they understand, and that’s reflected in the families’ excitement for the program.