Engaging Students Through Mariachi

Mike Lawson • ArchivesChoral • November 5, 2010

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With the growing Hispanic population in Southern Nevada, a Clark County School District (CCSD) board member requested that the district consider implementing a district wide, standards-based Mariachi program. The program grew from approximately 250 students in three secondary schools in the fall of 2002 to approximately 3,000 students in 17 schools in the fall of 2010. Because of this incredible success, I have been providing workshops across the country on how to successfully implement Mariachi programs. The how-to example provided below by Kerry Bryant, a Mariachi Workshop attendee, will assist any band, orchestra, or choral director in starting a high quality Mariachi Program in their school. Marcia Neel

In the spring of 2008, MENC hosted a week-long Summer Mariachi Workshop at their home office in Reston, Virginia. After attending that workshop, sponsored by Yamaha Corporation, I felt completely prepared pedagogically to move forward and start teaching the class.

At the workshop presented by Marcia Neel, president of Music Education Consultants and former CCSD music supervisor and Adam Romo, full-time CCSD mariachi educator, it was recommended and reinforced that the best way to initiate a mariachi program is as a standards-based course meeting during the school day commensurate with other credit-bearing courses, rather than as an after-school club which had been my initial intent. The unknown was how I was going to make this happen and the information below reflects my experience in getting the course adopted as part of the regular school curriculum. Hopefully, this will assist others looking to include classes in Mariachi as part of a comprehensive, standards-based music course meeting during the school day.

I distinctly recall the flutter in my stomach as I slumped in the chair in my superintendent’s office, almost embarrassed to ask, “What do you think of me starting a Mariachi program?” I dared not look up, as I hoped it might soften the “What are you… crazy?” comment that was sure to follow.

Instead my superintendent replied: “Mariachi, as in the guys that walk around restaurants?”

“Well, sort of, but not exactly that,” I responded.

“What other kind is there?”

“Well, this would be to create a full Mariachi ensemble, like a folk orchestra. It would engage all communities in our schools. It would draw beginner-level kids into music class that otherwise would never think of it. It would be a social studies, history, foreign language, and music performance class wrapped into one. And…” (dramatic pause), “it would be the first-ever Mariachi course for credit offered in Georgia, that I know of.”
Being the innovator and forward-thinking supervisor my boss thankfully is, I knew that last one would grab him, and it did.

“Well, if it’s a first, let’s look into it.”

With that, I produced the documents I had prepared as part of the course proposal, a budget, and other background information. A few minutes of discussion, and I was out the door, embarking on an educational journey that began as a crazy idea and would take me to one of the most cherished musical and “life” moments I’d ever experienced.

It all began with that germinal idea that I never imagined would come to fruition in such a rewarding way. And, it took my own willingness to step out of the traditional concert, marching and jazz band-only comfort zone and try something new.

Course planning occurred in these three areas:

I. Course adoption/administrative support
II. Funding
III. Instruction

I. Course Adoption/Administrative Support

“A journey of a million miles begins with a single step.”

The best way to go about this was to introduce Mariachi as a curricular offering because we would see the students daily and have the leverage of grades as opposed to voluntary attendance as in an after-school club setting.

To turn this into a course, I used the materials provided at the MENC Mariachi Workshop. Marcia Neel provided examples of her district’s standards-based Mariachi curriculum documents, which were of immense value.

Engaging Students Through MariachiOne of the most helpful items in assisting me with making the curriculum even more relevant was the “

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