Catherine Standridge ’13 studied music education at Concordia University Irvine, earning her degree and her teaching credential. Her student-teaching assignment led to a full-time job and an opportunity to help restore music education to an entire school district.
“Orange Unified School District didn’t have a music program in any of its elementary schools,” says Standridge. “Unfortunately, when budgets are cut, art is the first to go, even though it helps with the tests students take and their brain development in a way that academics can’t.”
When budgets are cut, art is the first to go, even though it helps with the tests students take and their brain development in a way that academics can't.
Standridge’s supervisor Sandy Streeter, Instrumental Music Director at El Ranchero Charter School, decided to take the ambitious step of creating a proposal to present to the board of education to try to bring music education back to every elementary school in the district. Standridge became her right hand person on the project.
“During the process of trying to reimplement the program, Catherine was instrumental in researching and presenting information that was gathered to sway the school board in a positive direction,” says Streeter.
“We worked really hard together for a year and a half in tandem to create a proposal for the board of education,” says Standridge. “We looked at surrounding districts—Irvine, Yorba Linda-Placentia—to see what worked best for us and what we could implement.”
In the process, Standridge learned how to put together a budget, a schedule, and more.
“It really taught me a lot about what goes on behind the scenes and how to implement the program,” she says.
The climactic moment came at the board of education meeting last fall when Standridge and Streeter presented the proposal. “[Catherine’s] attendance and perseverance was a driving force during negotiations.” After two years of work, the school district would have music instruction in its elementary schools again.
“They announced that it had passed and they were granting us over $2.5 million,” says Standridge. “I was ecstatic.”
The board immediately hired its own team to implement the proposal—and though Standridge had been one of the authors, she still had to apply to be a teacher in the program.
“It was really nerve-racking,” she says. “They interview you and then have a teaching observation where they have kids play instruments they have never played before. They acted as if it were the first day in band class, and I had to teach them how to make a sound on their instrument. It was pretty intense, and I was so nervous I wasn’t going to get the job. Luckily, I did pretty well.”
Now Standridge teaches in the program she helped create. Starting this September, every fifth and sixth grade student in all 27 schools in Orange Unified can take band, strings, or an elective wheel. They enjoy brand new instruments, books, and music stands. They can choose from flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, violin, viola, and cello. They learn the basics of music, music history, ear training, and get “a good musical foundation,” Standridge says.
“I feel awesome. I can’t believe it happened,” she says. “We worked for so long, and I felt it would never happen because of all the red tape and money. So much had to be done. When it was approved I remember telling everyone I knew. I have a lot of music education friends. I wanted everyone to apply.”
Streeter, who is near retirement, told Standridge that she was a big reason she pushed for this program. “I know that the future of the music programs in OUSD will be in great hands, with teachers like Catherine.”
“Sandy won’t see the benefits of this, but she told me she wouldn’t have done the proposal if she didn’t see something in me and think I could help carry this program into the future,” Standridge says.
Standridge is the first student-teacher the veteran educator has hired in 37 years.
The ultimate impact is on students who “are doing awesome,” says Standridge. “Every day after classes the kids thank me and say, ‘This is so much fun. This is the best thing that happened to me, and I love playing music.’ They’re in the very beginning stages of playing, but they’re getting there.”
Students may even take their instruments home to practice and bring them to school twice a week.
Standridge had a great experience at CUI, she says. She went on the first Around-the-World Semester® and found it “completely life-changing,” she says. She fell in love with many of the countries—and with Erik Olsen ’12 who she will marry next spring.
Standridge credits CUI professor Herb Geisler with setting her on her present path.
“He’s the one that placed me in the school I work at now, so I pretty much owe everything to him,” she says. “Going to Concordia was totally God. I had my mind set on something else and when it came time to choose I just said, ‘I’m going to Concordia.’ It was exactly where I needed to be and God knew that. I always have felt that God has led me wherever I need to go.”