Folkloric Ballet Returns to SAISD, Mariachi Programs Expand to More Schools

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As parents and children gathered for a back to school gathering on Friday morning in the gymnasium of De Zavala Primary School, the accents of mariachi music suddenly filled the air. Gabriela Villasana, in head-to-toe red mariachi outfits from Fox Tech High School, embarked on a full-throated rendition of La Charreada, the traditional welcome song.

Villasana sang to help promote the expansion of mariachi programs at several elementary and secondary schools in the San Antonio Independent School District, and was joined by dancers Lily Cura and Lauren Ortiz in celebrating the return of folk ballet programs to the SAISD after an absence of several decades.

The Fine Arts Department of SAISD and the association SAISD Foundation have partnered to bring or expand mariachi and dance programs to 12 schools, including De Zavala, Bonham Academy, Brackenridge High School, Jefferson High School, Longfellow Middle School and the elementary level of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA), who receive the folkloric ballet. Ball, Barkley-Ruiz, Herff, JT Brackenridge, and Smith elementary schools will have mariachi, as well as Democracy Prep at the Stewart campus at college level.

“We are blessed that the superintendent considers this important enough to bring back to the heart of San Antonio,” said Dianne Marx, fine arts coordinator of dance and spirit programs, which includes dance and cheer teams. and an encouragement team.

From an administrative point of view, the programs will offer students competition through the University Interschool League (UIL). As with sports teams, student music and dance groups compete for regional and national recognition through annual extracurricular competitions.

Of seven existing mariachi programs in SAISD schools, six passed the state competition in 2019, according to Daniel Loudenback, executive director of fine arts at SAISD.

“This expansion is aimed at preparing our children to be more competitive and then expanding the reach of our programs allowing more students to participate,” said Loudenback. “Ultimately, the belief is that if we do these two things, it will lead to academic gains.”

From the students’ perspective, participation in these programs provides inspiration, motivation, solace and an avenue to self-esteem.

After singing, Villasana recognized that participating in the mariachi program is an added responsibility in an already busy school schedule, but she finds this critical to her overall success.

“As a student it’s definitely an outlet for me,” she said. “I come to my mariachi class, tired of everything – tired of my English and math classes – and it’s just relaxing. For me, music is therapy, and that’s why I love it so much.

Cura graduated from Jefferson High School in 2021 and is heading to Texas State University as a dance major. While in Jefferson, the school did not have a folklore program, so she had to continue dancing outside of school.

She said she returned to San Antonio to dance for the students of De Zavala because she is thrilled to hear that folklorico ballet will be part of her alma mater’s regular programs.

“It means the world to me. I wish I was still here, “she said with a laugh.

Her dance partner Ortiz, a 2019 YWLA graduate and now a junior at the University of the Incarnate Word, said that the joy and happiness of dancing should not be underestimated as something to look forward to during the day. ‘school.

“School is not the best thing,” she said. “But dancing really made me happy at school, even in the most difficult times. Even though there are some tough times at home, it made me so happy.

Ortiz is pursuing a life goal by applying to nursing school. “I have high hopes and dreams for nursing. I’ve wanted to do this since I was little, ”she said. Folk dancing instilled in her the confidence she needed to remain steadfast in her quest and will contribute to her work as a nurse, she said.

“Honestly, I think it would help me as a nurse because you see so many different people, so many different backgrounds. You can really see how different everyone is as an individual. And I just appreciate him showing me that at such a young age, ”Ortiz said.

Thanks to funds raised by the SAISD Foundation, the total amount of funding until the 2022-2023 school year will be $ 400,000, divided between the two programs. The money will be used to buy instruments, costumes and equipment, and to pay the registration fees for the UIL competition.

SAISD Foundation Executive Director Judy Geelhoed said the goals of SAISD’s fine arts program and the foundation align when it comes to expanding arts programs. “It has also been one of our goals for a long time,” she said.

The foundation had previously funded after-school mariachi and folklorico clubs, and Geelhoed witnessed “children’s interest and passion”, but lamented that “they had no way up” to pursue their interests as they progressed in school.

The fact that the programs will become a staple in more schools is “good news at the right time,” she said.

And, she hopes, more good news is on the way, with the goal of expanding to even more schools in the district.

“Our goal is to add 10 new programs per year over the next two school years,” Geelhoed said in a press release. “With 90% of the student body identifying as Hispanic, one of our strategic priorities is to expand cultural arts programs that honor the culture and heritage of our larger student body. “


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