Education Matters: Firebaugh Choir

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Studies show music can improve student’s academic work and keep them in school.

The Firebaugh Las Deltas school district has been honored for rebuilding a band program that lie dormant for years. What the district is doing with a choral music program is changing student’s lives.

They take direction with ease, there voices full and strong. For many of these students this confidence, this sound is the result of six years of singing choir. Three years which were under the direction of Michael Gutierrez the choir director for the Firebaugh Las Deltas school district

“They wanted somebody to come in and start building the choir program and So I told them definitely I’d like to do that,” said Gutierrez. 

Gutierrez says when he came to Firebaugh, a district of only 2,300 students, there were only two choirs- one for middle school and high school, luckily now the program reaches down to first graders.

Gutierrez easily makes the transition from older kids to younger kids. He teaches music to all grade levels and spends his day sprinting from one school to the next. He says he is on a mission to create a culture of music in Firebaugh schools.

“The thing that I noticed when I first came here was that singing wasn’t a thing that people really did. Music was appreciated but it wasn’t something that people willingly did, so my main mission was to get as many students singing as possible,” he stated. 

17-year-old student Asiah Vasquez says she loves singing and never knew you could take a class for it.

“When I was little I never knew that they had like a thing for singing, like ok here’s a specific class you would want, you would enjoy for singing.  I never new that they had that until I found it my sixth grade year,” said Vasquez. 

Gutierrez says he has had to introduce choral music to his students; they thought karaoke was singing.

“I wanted them to get the feeling that music isn’t just something to do, it tells a story and it tells their story as well,” Gutierrez mentioned. 

One of those stories is that of 13-year-old Jacob Luzanilla.

Jacob who says he has always had a song in his heart, has only been performing formal music, choral music for two years and is excelling.

“7th grade is where it really started. I went to an honor choir it was a local honor choir which made me realize that I was good,” exclaimed Luzanilla. 

This year Jacob participated in the California All-State Honor Choir and the American Choral Directors Association western division honor choir.

“It was probably the best experience of my life cause I actually meet so many people there who are so good and they understand music the same way I do so we can relate a lot when it comes to the struggles we’ve had.”

Jacob is even more determined now. He learned that singing could actually earn him a college scholarship. He sees it as an opportunity, a way out of poverty for him and his family.

“If I get the chance to make sure my family can get a home, get a place to live, get a bed to sleep in food to eat, water to drink..I’m going to make that decision,” he mentioned. 

Watching students like Jacob and Ashia grow to not only love music but understand how it can change their lives is a dream come true for Russel Freites, superintendent of the Firebaugh Las Deltas school district. Bringing music back to his schools and community was a top priority for him.

“Being able to see the growth in the program it’s really a dream come true because you start out with a vision and you say to yourself I want every single child to be able to access music and have the experience that they wish to have,” stated Superintendent Russell Freitas.

Freites says it’s all about hiring the right teachers, teachers who love music and are willing to go the extra mile for their students. Gutierrez, who came from a small town himself feels he is at the right place to make a difference.

“Not only do I see how I effected peoples lives through music but when students like Jacob and others are stepping forward and saying I want more, I know I can do more and I want to do more.  It’s beautiful to see because they get it they understand that they are in control of their destiny, their future,” Guiterrez said. 

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