Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

What is ASO Sympatico?

sympaticoThink about what you’re doing at 6:50 a.m. on a typical weekday. At that hour about 50 John Adams Elementary School students are tuning their violins or sitting around a circle of Orff instruments. Every day. Another 50 or so stay after school until 4:00 p.m. for choir or bucket band. Every day.

These students participate in the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s (ASO) Sympatico program, which was born out of the ASO’s commitment to education, social justice, and the youth of Alexandria. Now in its second year, Sympatico is inspired by El Sistema, the program that began in Venezuela 30 years ago that seeks to transform young lives, especially those living in poverty, through music instruction.

Schools in more than 100 cities across the U.S. have adopted similar programs, but the John Adams program is the only one of its kind in the city of Alexandria, and the only one that I know of in this area. (The OrchKids program for 400 students in Baltimore is sponsored by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.) Programs there and in other cities have been shown to generate improved academic performance and more-consistent school attendance.

Starting November 2, all of John Adams’s Sympatico students will be participating in a week-long workshop with guest artists. The workshop week will culminate with a performance with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra at its November 7 and 8 concerts at Schlesinger Hall and the George Washington Masonic Memorial.*orff

Sympatico is so popular among John Adams families that there are waiting lists for all five ensembles. “After only a month in Sympatico’s Singing Eagles, I’ve noticed an astonishing increase in musicality on the part of my first grader. My very shy child now cannot wait to perform on stage at the Schlesinger Center. If the program has had this kind of impact already I cannot wait to see the impact come June!” says one John Adams parent.

She adds, “Something pretty remarkable is going on at John Adams when six-year-olds are excited to attend choir five days a week, for over an hour each day, without a single complaint. Clearly Sympatico has found the secret to engaging children of all backgrounds on a meaningful level.”

Sympatico receives no funding from Alexandria City Public Schools. The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra covers 100% of the cost for the five instructors, the part-time program director and instruments. If additional funds were available, more children could be reached, either through additional ensembles at John Adams or by extending the program to other schools in ACPS.

Watch a 15-minute video about ASO Sympatico here. Visit ASO Sympatico’s website here. Donate to ASO Sympatico here.

*Student tickets are available for $5 each.


Worth Reading

As ACPS launches into redistricting, this NPR Ed report offers some interesting perspectives: The Evidence that White Children Benefit from Integrated Schools


Coming Up

If you live in District A or B and missed the Alexandria PTA Council candidate forum last week, there’s still another opportunity to hear from the three District A candidates and the five District B candidates at the Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy’s candidate forum on Tuesday, October 27, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.


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  1. Three Easy-to-Remember Steps for Parents of New Undergrads – Port City Notebook
  2. Changing Young Lives in Alexandria – Port City Notebook