The Orchestra Zone is a collaboration between Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Reading School District, which offers free after-school music lessons on a weekly basis. As a result of statistics about low achievement rates, low income families, highly mobile student base, staffing obstacles, and a low retention rate for higher level music participation, the Reading Symphony Orchestra presented a proposal to the Reading School District Board in October 2008 to work together to overcome these challenges.

The Orchestra Zone program began with about fifteen sixth grade participants and has expanded to include over sixty participating students in grades six through nine that take part in private instrumental lessons during a six-week summer program and throughout the academic year. Lessons are given after school at the middle school most convenient to each student and are supplemental to music classes and group instrumental lessons received during the school day.

Following the completion of fifth grade, instrumental teachers from the district can recommend students that they identify as musically talented and responsible, and these students are then asked if they would like to participate in the free program, beginning with the summer session. Students are continually assessed on their progress and attendance.

Five teachers participate in the program: Jan Dixon, the program coordinator, an RSO member, and a retired educator from Governor Mifflin school district; Brad Richards, orchestra director at Reading High School; Sara Ifkowitz, band director at Reading High School; Andrew Keller, elementary instrumental music teacher in the Reading School District; and Ann Cusano, retired elementary band director in the Governor Mifflin School District. The five teachers give private instrumental music lessons in their specific disciplines.

It is no secret that many studies correlate high academic performance with participation in the arts. The Orchestra Zone program is a prime example of this—two of the first class of graduating seniors that were participants in the program were in the top five in Reading High School’s class of 2016, and 2017’s Reading High School valedictorian and salutatorian were both Orchestra Zone participants.

Since the program began, there have been more students from the Reading School District participating in the Reading Symphony Youth Orchestra and Junior Strings programs, as well as increasing numbers of students from Reading School District participating in all-county orchestra and band, and students participating in district, regional, state and national level programs.


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