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Modern Band class at Visitacion Valley Middle School

Engaging students with Modern Band at Visitacion Valley Middle School


Students won’t find clarinets, flutes or other traditional school band instruments in Lauren Schwartz’s music class. Instead, Schwartz is keeping her students engaged by encouraging them to sing and play today’s chart-topping songs.

In her Modern Band class at Visitacion Valley Middle School, students learn electric bass, acoustic guitar, keyboards, drums, and singing. Schwartz’s students have performed with Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and James Hetfield of Metallica. Their last concert included songs by Justin Timberlake, Pink and Macklemore.

“The program at Visitacion is engaging because the kids are able to play music that they like. It builds community really quickly. The kids are trusting themselves. When they’re playing music, they’re vulnerable,” said Schwartz, who is trained in music therapy.

Schwartz started teaching music at Visitacion Valley 14 years ago through a partnership with a community organization. Six years ago, she became the school’s music teacher.

Schwartz teamed up with Little Kids Rock, a national program that has given more than 500,000 underserved students access to modern band classes and instruments. The group donated instruments to Visitacion. Students also perform outside of school with the group.

At Visitacion, Schwartz said she has the freedom to experiment with teaching to meet all students’ individual needs. In sixth grade, students take Modern Band as an elective, and they learn the basics of the class. In grades 7-8, students learn more advanced music skills.

Modern Band engages students in a way other classes can’t, Schwartz said. In her class, students dance, sing and move around the room. “Music gives students confidence and a voice,” Schwartz said. “I believe in the power of music.”