Mariachi makes its mark on Bakersfield schools

BCSD Mariachi Program going strong since 1994

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - It isn't your typical band practice, or your typical elementary school band. You can hear the sounds of traditional Mexican folk music coming from a bungalow at College Heights Elementary.

The small group of students is part of the Bakersfield City School District's Mariachi Program.

"It's a different style of music," said music teacher Nick Olmos. "Our orchestra is much larger; we have 60 students in our advance orchestra. Our Mariachi we only have 15."

But don't let the number fool you. The talent coming from this group is huge.

This is the second year sixth grader Ariana Alias has been in the program.

"Mariachi is a little bit harder than orchestra," said Alias. But the kids seem to like the challenge, said Olmos.

"I thought it would be a good experience," said sixth grade student Monica Ascencio.

The Bakersfield City School District also thought it would be a good experience. The board authorized the district to start the Mariachi Program in 1994, said Michael Stone, the Coordinator of the Visual and Arts Department for the district.

"The students play on a very high level and their teacher does a great job with them," said Stone. "The program meets state standards and we continue to support it because we know it’s an important way to reach our community in Bakersfield City School District."

It's an opportunity for students to learn the music and culture of Mariachi. The program is currently taught at College Heights Elementary, Curran Middle School and the Migrant Education Program.

For Olmos, being part of the program holds a special meaning. His father Nicanor helped start the program and was the music director in the district for 29 years.

"I was just able to continue and build upon what he has started and it has really taken off," said Olmos.

The students regularly perform at community events and have been invited to play at Disneyland.

"It's all about bringing confidence to the kids, giving them something that they're proud of," said Olmos.

Picking up an instrument and learning to play not only gives the students’ confidence, but Olmos said it helps them excel in the classroom.

"It teaches them to think outside the box," said Olmos. "Studies have shown that they will improve academically if they're in music."

Stone said the goal is to expand the Mariachi Program to more schools in the future.

You can catch the College Heights Mariachi band play at Valley Plaza Mall this December.

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