Harmony Project KC Turns Kansas City Kids Into Musicians Who Win College Scholarships | KCUR 89.3 – Advice Eating

When Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School outgrew Kansas City’s Northeast Community Center at 544 Wabash and moved out in 2014, an opportunity presented itself to create something new.

“It was an empty campus with so many opportunities in front of it,” says community center executive director Kayla Pitts-Zevin, who has been with the organization since 2018.

They asked the community for input, says Pitts-Zevin, and heard there was a need for after-school education programs for children.

And that’s when the center’s former executive director, Laura Shultz, founded the Harmony Project in Los Angeles.

The music education program in California started in 2001 with a focus on low-income families. Students in the free music education program performed better in school and were more likely to attend and finish college.

Launched in 2015, Harmony Project KC provides free instrumental and music lessons to children in the city’s historic Northeast. The program is now one of about eight Harmony projects across the country.
It starts with months of training: listening to music, learning to read and caring for an instrument.

Students – as young as five and as old as 18 – attend classes two to three times a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school and on Saturday mornings.

Harmony Project KC Teacher Alyssa Bell, Associate Professor of High Strings at William Jewell College, guides viola students through practice of a series of scales.

Northeast Community Center’s roots date back to 1908 as an Italian Mission, a settlement house for immigrants.

The center’s current location was built in 1940 and initially offered English, citizenship and cooking classes, as well as health care.

“So there’s a long history of welcome and acceptance on our campus,” said Flor Lizbeth Cruz Longoria, a student and family advocate at the community center.

“The only thing that has changed is the immigrant community,” she says. “We started with Italian and are now mostly Latinx immigrants and first-generation students.”

Cruz Longoria also directs the Path to College program and helps students with their scholarship applications.

“Many of our students thought about college from a young age,” she said. “They come here with very specific ideas and plans for their future.”

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Laura Spencer

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KCUR 89.3

During a Tuesday class at the Northeast Community Center, Darianna Reyes Marquez and Vanessa Guillen Macias take notes on their grades.

Vanessa Guillen Macias, an East High School senior, began learning the viola when she was 12.

“I would definitely say confidence,” she said when asked what she learned from the program. “And leadership skills.”

Darianna Reyes Marquez, a senior at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, also plays the viola and joined the program when she was 14 years old.

“It gave me a sense of routine and structure,” she said. “They’re on a schedule, so I like that, I know what I’m going to do throughout the week.”

Both students are Hispanic Development Fund grantees — and college-bound.

Guillen Macias plans to visit the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance in the fall.

“I feel like I’ve developed an extremely great passion, which is music,” she said. “This program has helped me make new friends. And it’s basically like a second home for me.”

“I’m sad to be leaving,” she added.

Reyes Marquez will be a little further from home at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York with a full ride through QuestBridge.

“I’m definitely pretty nervous because I’m obviously going to be leaving a lot of friends and my parents behind,” she said, “but I’m also pretty excited about it.”

Both plan to continue their music studies either in performance or theory and composition. The graduating seniors also have a chance to show off their skills one last time at Harmony Project KC’s Spring Concert – along with 134 other aspiring musicians.

The Harmony Project KC Spring Concert is Saturday at 10:30 am at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, 4747 Flora, Kansas City, MO. The finale of the program: a world premiere of “Looking for Harmony” honoring founder Laura Schultz, who stepped down last year.

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