VAIL - Gone are the days of swapping out cookies for carrots in student's lunchboxes. Instead, many students are swapping out their lunch recess for a chance to take an extra music class.
Students at Red Sandstone Elementary voluntarily gave up their lunch recess for the last eight weeks to participate in piano classes led by local piano master Tony Gulizia. "Cool Keyboarding with Master Tony G," the brainchild of Red Sandstone Elementary music teacher Nancy Sandberg, gives students the opportunity play piano within the school setting.
"I wanted my music students to have a band like experience while learning from an experienced performer," Sandberg said. "Kids love being able to create music."
The piano students recently showcased their abilities at a recital during an all-school assembly. Teachers, parents and the peers of the piano students heard firsthand about the success of the program. Gulizia said the students were "pumped" for the assembly and they thought it was the greatest thing to be able to show the other students what they've learned.
The program was initially funded through a grant from the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, then private funding and now the school's PTA supports it. The piano classes are free for students.
"Without the continued support still of Bravo, the program would not be successful," Sandberg said.
The program began in 2009 with eight pianos serving 16 kids per group. "Now we have 16 pianos thanks to Bravo and the PTA," said Sandberg.
The in-school program is divided into beginning and advanced classes and taught during the lunch hour - the piano class is the student's recess. Students meet once a week during the eight-week session. There are 17 students in the beginning group, 14 in the advance. The beginners have never had exposure to the piano before.
Sandberg notes that the success rate is very high and her younger students can't wait to participate.
Gulizia and Sandberg both believe that piano instruction is important for elementary students and wish it was done more in the classroom setting because much of music instruction boils back to the piano.
"I do this program because I love introducing kids to the wonderful world of music," Gulizia said. "I love being with those kids and they become a wonderful part of my series. They enjoy it and I enjoy it. It is just great."
The students realized on their own that they had to relinquish their 40-minute lunch break to do this class, said Gulizia. They eat their lunch in five minutes, and then the rest of the time is spent learning the piano.
"They just snarf down their food," Gulizia said. "It shows their dedication."
Sandberg said the Guliza is a great role model for the kids.
"The kids absolutely love Tony," Sandberg said. "He is funny, compassionate and has an amazing love for music."
The success at Red Sandstone inspired the Bravo Music Festival to initiate affordable piano classes throughout the valley, said Bravo's director of education Liz Campbell.
Gulizia said the biggest accomplishment of the program was the concert held on Friday, when the teachers, students and parents all saw what the students have learned in the classes.
"Kids love playing the piano, kids love music and kids need the arts," Sandberg said.
Embarking on its 25th season, the Bravo! Music Festival will feature the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The New York Philharmonic, and Big Music For Little Bands June 25 - Aug. 4, 2012. For more information visit www.vailmusic.org or call 970-827-5700.