SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Several shiny, brand new instruments are now in the hands of aspiring musicians at Tommie Kunst Junior High School thanks to a generous donation from a national foundation with ties to a popular 1995 movie.
"The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation generously gave us almost $20,000 worth of instruments," said band director Jessica Husselstein. "We got three baritones, six alto saxophones, four clarinets and two pieces of marching percussion."
At the start of class, students excitedly opened the instruments from packaging and were able to assemble them for the first time ever.
"I have never seen a clarinet before, and I just want to learn how to play it," said 7th grader Yaniah Bolden.
The school received the instruments through a grant from the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, an organization inspired by the movie that starred Richard Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the movie's lead character.
"After that movie was made, they developed a foundation that donates instruments to programs that are already doing well, but need that extra boost to continue doing well, to expand the program and make the opportunity available to more students," said Husselstein.
Husselstein noted an important factor that played a role in the school earning the grant was the Santa Maria-Bonita School District's longstanding commitment to its music program.
"The district has been so supportive of our program throughout the years," said Husselstein. "Even when our funding was so tight, the district never cut the music program. They always made sure the students had access to a teacher."
Having access to music class is something that some students realize isn't something to be taken for granted.
"I'm very thankful because not many schools have the opportunity for kids to go into band and it's a really fun program," said 7th grader Jorge Cazares.
The new instruments, which were put to immediate use Thursday morning, will allow several more students to enroll in band.
"This has enabled 35 more students to participate in the class," said Husselstein. "We've been able to open an entire extra session of band that's all beginners, all first year players, so these kids are receiving free music instruction, and a free instruments, and they're going to get a year where they're going to learn how to work this instrument, and by the end of the year, they'll be performing concerts."
According to the school district, Kunst Junior High School was one of only 57 schools to receive a grant from the foundation, including 18 others in California. Since its inception 20 years ago, the foundation has awarded more than 20,000 instruments to more than 1,300 schools nationally.
Husselstein stresses the importance of keeping music and the arts alive in school for current and future students.
"It's teaching our kids to step back and know they can create something," said Husselstein. "It's empowering them to do that themselves, which is an amazing process, and then they also get to learn self awareness, and they're able to take that challenge and meet that challenge' and they have to be able to figure out how to make it happen, and that grit that they develop that they're learning this is hard to learn in other places."
In addition to the new instruments that were opened on Thursday, students will open and assemble the remaining packaged instruments this coming Friday and Monday.