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The Newark Board of Education serves more low-income students than all other districts in New Jersey. In 2017, Save The Music Foundation, in coordination with Newark Arts, the Newark Arts Education Roundtable and other local organizations, launched a five-year initiative to jumpstart music programs in 40 schools with the goal of completing this rebuild by 2021-2022. To celebrate the halfway point of that campaign, we put on a showcase featuring performances by nine schools!

Save The Music Newark celebration music education grants

Sway Calloway, Save The Music board member and host of “Sway In The Morning,” was the emcee for the evening. A clarinet player himself, he spoke about how playing an instrument helped him in other facets of his life including general lessons he learned and how he could apply them to his professional career. Just before the show started, he paid a surprise visit to students part of our Music Tech Grant program at Barringer High School. They even had a chance to freestyle with him!

After Sway’s opening remarks, he introduced Roger León, the Superintendent of the Newark Board of Education. He talked about the impact of Save The Music’s grants on the schools and students. Henry Donahue, Save The Music’s Executive Director, then spoke about how the work being done in Newark is a model for all communities.

The first group to perform was Camden Street School whom we gave a Strings Grant to in 2017 after their program was cut over five years ago. They now have a full-time general music teacher (Ms. Latoya Green) and Mr. Omar Reyes works with the orchestra.

The next group was Avon Avenue Elementary School who was led by a student instructor!

Next was Hawthorne Avenue School. They did not have music teachers on staff until 2017 but were able to start a brand new band program this year thanks to the Save The Music grant!

Then followed Lincoln Elementary School. Here’s a quote from the Orchestra Director, Mr. Jeff Cierniak:

Because of having a supply of quality instruments, I was able to expand the instrumental music program to fourth grade this year. It was one of the best moves for the instrumental program that I have ever made, and now I am taking six fourth graders to the Region I Honors orchestra on April 27th.

The following group was Rafael Hernandez Elementary School and First Avenue School. The Rafael Hernandez School has been building their instrumental and general music programs. They now actively send their students to regional honors ensembles and all-city activities.

Ms. Jenna Sandman, the Band Director at First Avenue School, was new in the fall of 2017 and worked hard to establish a band program with very old instruments that were found in the building. With the Save The Music grant, the ensemble increased to 65 members and continues to grow:

The music program is a place where the students have expressed they can have fun while still learning something. Some of my students stated that this is where they can be creative and make mistakes in order to practice and grow from them. A few students say that it is something that they want to continue to do even when they leave First Avenue.

Following them was South Street School where we hosted the evening’s event. Their string program was established in the fall of 2017 with Save The Music instruments. Since then, they have added a second full-time music teacher and now have over 100 students involved!

The last performance was by Abington Avenue School. They had a long history of a band program but were about to lose most of the instruments when the teacher/music store owner retired—until Save The Music donated a grant in 2018.

In between performances, students expressed what music means to them. Here’s a snippet of some of their speeches!

The showcase would not have been possible without:

  • Newark Board of Education

  • Mr. Roger León, Superintendent of the Newark Board of Education

  • Ms. Margaret El, Special Assistant for the Arts Office

  • Newark Arts

  • Newark Arts Education Roundtable

  • Ms. Sandra Cruz, South Street School Principal

  • Mr. David Watson, South Street School Music Teacher

  • New Jersey Performing Arts Center

  • New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

  • Sway Calloway

  • Save The Music Board of Directors

Generous support was provided by:


  • The ELMA Music Foundation (U.S.)

  • Singer Family Foundation

  • Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

  • New Jersey State Council on the Arts

  • Amazon Music

  • Henry S. and Agnes M. Truzack Foundation

  • The Dubose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund