Education

To encourage students to pursue music, teachers dip into their own paychecks

Kevon Fortune, center, stands with other violin students who received scholarships for private lessons.
Kevon Fortune, center, stands with other violin students who received scholarships for private lessons.
Courtesy of LACESMA

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Arts teachers dip into their own pockets regularly to purchase supplies for classes.

But elementary music teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District have for decades taken their personal interest in their students' artistic growth one step further: they give money out of every paycheck to fund scholarships for private lessons for exceptional students. 

"These teachers are so dedicated to their art form because we don't want classical music to die," said music teacher Jeanne Mitchell, president of the Los Angeles City Elementary Schools Music Association (LACESMA). "We need these young people to continue our art form."

Teachers in LACESMA put $5 out of every paycheck to fund $300 scholarships for dozens of instrumental students who audition. Over the years, as the ranks of elementary music teachers were reduced, teachers committed more money to keep the scholarships going.

Mitchell said even though the $300 scholarships are only a drop in the bucket of the costs required for private lessons, the endorsements encourage young musicians to keep practicing. Some of the scholarship recipients have only had group instruction at school and others have already started private lessons.

"Our aim is to encourage and honor the talent displayed by both [groups of] students," said Mitchell.

The scholarship recipients are recognized annually at an award ceremony. This year, 40 young musicians – who play cello, clarinet, flute, piano, trumpet, trombone and violin – were honored in April. Parents, teachers and principals packed into the auditorium at Wilshire Crest Elementary School to applaud as the students received their awards.

"I’m just so thankful that I got this," said Kevon Fortune, a fifth grader at Windsor Hills Elementary School, who said his favorite music to play is the theme to "Star Wars." Fortune plays violin and said he dreams of going to Juilliard in New York one day. 

And he has a role model close to home: L.A. Philharmonic violinist Mitchell Newman was a scholarship recipient years ago.

Newman will be a guest speaker at a gala celebrating the group's 75th anniversary on Sunday at the Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. This year, LACESMA secured a couple of grants to fund the scholarships and the salary reduction will support the gala. Students from the LACESMA Honor Children’s Chorus will perform.