WEST TOWN — Teenage musicians at Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School were overjoyed that their school would be given $42,000 worth of new instruments, thanks to a grant from The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation.
"Does this mean I'll get to play on a new instrument that works properly?" one student asked Najjah Thompson, a music teacher at the West Town neighborhood high school, 1147 N. Western Ave.
That student was Yamia Draper, a freshman, who plays clarinet in the Clemente band, using a dated and problem-plagued school-owned instrument, Thompson said.
Students can become frustrated when their instrument is not functioning correctly, Thompson said. Several students are forced to share their instruments with other students who play in different class periods.
"This is a tremendous help because many students have to share instruments with other students in different class periods and this will allow students to have an instrument assigned directly and only to them," Thompson said in an email.
The grant will provide Clemente with two steel drums, eight clarinets, eight trumpets, one tuba, six flutes, two alto saxophones and two tenor saxophones, Tricia Steel, program director of the California-based Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, said in a letter to the school.
Thompson described the $42,000 grant as "a much needed uplift" for the band program at Clemente, where music has been an integral part of the school since the 1960s under former steel band director S. Thomas Henry.
The grant was made possible by StubHub, the San Francisco, Calif. -based a ticket company that is a corporate sponsor to the foundation, Steel said.
The foundation was formed in 1996 by Michael Kamen, who was the composer on the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus." The film told the story of a high school music teacher, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who transformed lives through music education.
The foundation has awarded more than $20 million worth of musical instruments to more than 1,440 schools nationwide since its inception, according to its website. In addition to StubHub, brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen have contributed more than $100,000 to the foundation.
The foundation says it believes "music’s role in a child’s education is key in engaging them, sparking their creativity and unique voice and improving their overall enjoyment and success in school."
"A vibrant, music-rich curriculum makes an immense difference in their lives," according to the foundation.
Currently Clemente's yearly budget allotted to its band and music program is $15,000.
Thompson said Clemente principal Marcey Sorensen has been "extremely supportive" of the music program and support by the school administration "has made it essentially free for students to check out an instrument for the school year and not have to worry about paying instrument fees, reeds or mouthpieces."
A little more than a third of the 780 students at the high school take a music class, either with Thompson or Heather Busch, the school's steel drum instructor who applied for the grant last year.
"Since I have been at Clemente, I have seen music become a way to escape; escape the academic demands of their other class, unfortunate circumstances at home or in their community and other negativity that is present in their lives," said Thompson, a first-year teacher.