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Music-Focused Charter School Opens in Washington Heights

By Carolina Pichardo | September 8, 2017 1:07pm | Updated on September 11, 2017 8:38am
 The founders of the WHIN Music Community Charter School, David Gracia and Charles Ortiz, said the school is the first of its kind in the city.
The founders of the WHIN Music Community Charter School, David Gracia and Charles Ortiz, said the school is the first of its kind in the city.
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DNAinfo/Carolina Pichardo

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A popular Uptown youth music and orchestra program celebrated its first day of school Thursday and what its founders hope is a harmonious beginning for many local kids.

The WHIN Music Community Charter School, at 401 W. 164th St. near Edgecombe Avenue, was co-founded by music professionals David Gracia and Charles Ortiz, and will run from kindergarten through fifth grade, although it currently only houses kindergarten and first-grade students

The school, which is an outgrowth of the WHIN Music Project, an after-school and weekend music program that launched in 2012, uses a method called "El Sistema" that Gracia said combines music making with community building.

It allows for the school to provide students with two classes of music per day, while also integrating music into academic courses, such as math and English, Gracia said, adding that it's the first elementary school in the city to adapt the system.

“We are music… one way or the other. We make music as humans. The El Sistema touches that role, experience that we have as humans. It’s in our DNA, and it does it in very different ways,” Gracia said. “And through connecting with who we are and making music together, it’s how the El Sistema has been successful in building a tight community, in which people have the same goal, which is to make music together.”

The primarily state-funded school currently has 90 kindergarten and first-grade students, and will add a grade level each year until reaching fifth grade, Ortiz said. The school received more than 500 applications although most were for kindergarten, Gracia said, adding that the school is enrolling first-grade students.

“We are a very unique school,” Ortiz said. "I think very few people realize how different we are. Our music program doesn’t look like other music programs, because we think of music differently. We are musicians and that’s what we do.”

Ortiz said the school puts kids in a position where they’re able to experience music differently, adding that there are two other schools in the country that use the system they’re using to teach, but that WHIN is the first that’s been founded on the principles.

“It’s the same as when we develop authentic scientists, and authentic readers, we are developing authentic music makers that allows them to feel that they’re getting better at something everyday, and allows them to explore their curiosity and develop a drive to be successful at all of the things they do.”

The school currently has 11 teachers and follows a co-teaching model with each classroom having two certified teachers, Ortiz said. There are two classrooms that have a certified English as a New Language teacher and then a gym teacher, “because kids have gym daily,” he added.

While there are still a lot of moving parts as the school comes together, Ortiz said the launch of the dream school has been "surreal."

"It's so weird and so hard to process," he said.