Let the Music Play
Santa Barbara Education Foundation
Still Keeps the Beat
By Leslie Dinaberg | November 10, 2022
Santa Barbara Education Foundation (SBEF) provides and supports programs that enrich the academic, artistic, and personal development of all students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD).
One of its best known, signature programs is Keep the Beat. Since 2003, SBEF has been Keeping the Beat — raising funds to pay for music education in local schools. Today, all 5,000-plus elementary students learn to play an instrument during their school day.
“We raise funds through grants, individual donors, and our radio-thon with 99.9 KTYD during the month of February,” says Programs Manager Katie Szopa. “These funds are given to our music teachers at the beginning of each school year to purchase instruments and accessories and pay for instrument coaches. This past August, we awarded $33,000 to our music teachers. SBEF also runs a year-round instrument drive. We repair the instruments and place them into the hands of our students.”
Nick Rail Summer Band Camp is another signature SBEF program. Originally founded by Nick Rail in 1989, this well-established program provides an enriching and affordable summer music experience for students in grades 4-9. Campers are grouped by ability and taught by professional musicians to play solo and as a group. SBEF took over the administration of this camp in 2016, says Szopa.
Since its inception, more than 2,000 students have attended band camp. Asked about the importance of the camp, SBUSD music teacher Brett Larsen (who was honored as 2017 Performing Arts Teacher of the Year for Santa Barbara County), says, “Summer band camp provides a space for beginning students to get excited and ready to join their school ensembles. And it gives the more experienced junior high and high school students the challenges needed to continue practicing and honing their skills over the summer break.”
Summer String Camp is another SBEF signature program. Szopa says the camp welcomes participants, students of all levels in incoming grades 4-9, to play the violin, viola, cello, or bass. String students gain technical skills on their instrument, increased note-reading facility, and composition instruction in a fun, supportive environment. Players are divided by level into ensemble groups where they practice their instruments together, culminating in an end-of-camp performance, including performing a piece of their own composition.
Following the success of their band and string camps, SBEF (in collaboration with SBUSD teacher Charlie Ortega) designed Drumline Camp, focused on junior high students. The Drumline Camp allows participants to expand their understanding of the elements of music performance, learn rhythm reading, and develop proper playing techniques. Camp participants explore all the different types of percussion instruments used in large percussion ensembles, including snare, marching tenor, bass, hand percussion, and melodic percussion.
In memory of avid performing arts supporter Léni Fé Bland, her dear friend Sara Miller McCune established the Léni Fé Bland Performing Arts Partnership honoring Léni and her incredible generosity to the performing arts. “The fund continues Léni’s work by supporting and encouraging student participation and exposure to the amazing performing arts programs in Santa Barbara,” says Szopa. “Our mission is to partner with performing arts organizations in Santa Barbara and SBUSD to provide students and teachers equitable access to performances and promote the performing arts in education. The Léni Fund provides Santa Barbara Unified School District students from Pre-K to 12th grade access to in-theater performing arts performances and in-class workshops. Students attend performances in four of Santa Barbara’s historic theaters: the Granada, the Lobero, the Arlington, and The New Vic.”
SBEF is funded by grants, private donations, family foundation donations, and business donations, and it is an originating partner in the Pianos on State project, as well as a fiscal sponsor to community programs that benefit Santa Barbara Unified students, including Bravo!, a free, district-sponsored, after-school music program; and South Coast Youth Band, an after-school music program that provides fun band experiences and quality instruction for elementary school students in grades 4-6.