Seeing Stars: Music programs are changing the tune for students

Some of my favorite stories as a freelance reporter are those about how music and arts programs make a positive difference in young students' lives. The idea that we wouldn't balance music and art with academics in education is sinful to me.

There are some amazing programs here in Los Angeles that are worth mentioning and I have to say, I've seen some school performances that are way beyond anything we ever had in San Jose when my daughter was in high school.

My girlfriend Diana Jenkins took me to her daughter Lily's dance performance at Burroughs High School in Burbank shortly after I moved here and it was an introduction to me about how talented L.A. teenagers can be when they have their heart in what they are doing. I wish I was able to videotape it. Maybe next year.

I've spent some time over at Birmingham Charter School in Encino where the principal is absolutely dedicated to the music program and the award-winning band and choir is fantastic. I've written several stories on this school's students, teachers and musical accomplishments. The charter school has the ability to distribute funds from the state as they see fit and it's paying off with great results.

The kids at Birmingham actually have to attend an early morning "zero period" to participate in the music program and over 200 students are enthusiastic enough to be at school everyday at 7 a.m. because of passionate teachers Donny Sierer and Michael Suffolk.

Another great program is the Harmony Project, which is a Hollywood-based program that donates instruments and assigns music teachers to underserved areas of Los Angeles. More than 300 students are involved in the project. The program boasts a 100% high school graduation rate and is also home to the Hollywood Youth Orchestra, which I saw perform at Disney Hall and they were fantastic.

Lacer program is another non-profit music and arts after school program, which recently held a very cool event called Starfest that blew me away with the very professional dancing performed by high school and middle school kids.

Starfest was hosted by Hollywood High School. I shot a quick video of Hollywood High dancer's closing performance, which was their very impressive version ofSnow White.

My video news story for Hollywood Patch explains the philosophy of the program and kids talk to me about what these music programs mean to them and it's everything.

At the end of the day, it's important we give children the opportunity to be involved in several activities, especially the arts. After all, studies have shown portions of the brain are stimulated through music, that raise I.Q points.

It's my personal opinion that creativity, art and music are essential for all people to develop into well-rounded adults. I truly hope that schools realize this before all these programs are eliminated.

Creative adults can really make a difference in the lives of children. I know first hand that kind words and encouragement, even  a single brief encounter with creative children can motivate them their entire lives. Remember, your words may be the only positive words some children have heard about themselves from adults, so make them count.

If you know of any examples where music and art programs are making a difference in the community, please email me. I'd love to hear about it.

Cassandra M. Bellantoni is a Los Angeles freelance reporter, producer, video editor and featured front-page blogger on Huffington Post. She is also a former chef, restaurant owner and breast cancer survivor. Follow her on Twitter @StarShineSpeaks or email

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