By Michelle Hirsch
Music can bring joy, stir emotions — and deliver a big check to Tempe High School. The Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation, partnering with the University of Phoenix, selected Tempe High’s United Sound band program as one of 30 winning school programs to receive a $5,000 check in this year’s D-backs $150,000 School Challenge. Tempe High band students also received a surprise visit from D-backs mascot Baxter the Bobcat and starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo to announce their win. Baxter greeted the students and passed out ball caps while Arroyo talked about his love of playing the guitar, which he said he took up about 11 years ago while in the minor leagues. He shared how playing an instrument helps relieve his anxiety and stress as a professional athlete, in addition to being enjoyable. Arroyo praised members of the band, saying, “This program is multi-faceted, where the kids are getting an opportunity to interact with students they might not have otherwise, and students are getting the opportunity mentor (others).” Julie Duty, executive director at United Sound, said the nonprofit organization offers support and resources to music teachers by providing learning and performance experiences for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities who have been paired with their typical peers as mentors. Michael Hall, Tempe High’s band director, explained that students learn and perform together in their United Sound Ensemble music club. “We’re providing an opportunity for students with special needs to work with my band members to create music and have a lot of fun,” said Hall. “This program is a chance for students to get out of their regular classrooms and have as much fun as we do, and it gives band students a chance to expand their skills and experiences by teaching other students. This funding will help us get materials and instruments,” said Hall. During the Tempe High visit, Debbie Castaldo, vice president for corporate and community impact for the Diamondbacks, thanked the DBacks organization and University of Phoenix for funding the program. “We read over 400 grant applications,” said Castaldo, “and this was one of my favorite programs. I played in band myself, and I love this vision of bringing music to all kids. Music brings great joy, and I love watching the students’ care and compassion. Bronson added that recognizes how special music is. Music is his outlet and his joy.” Arroyo brought along his guitar to play a couple songs for the students, including one upbeat title he composed, “Be You” that had the students smiling and clapping along. Castaldo also introduced David Fitzgerald, campus vice president at University of Phoenix, who also serves on the Diamondbacks Foundation Executive Council. Fitzgerald commented on the pleasure of being able to impact so many deserving Arizona school students with the grants. “We’re probably into the 10s of thousands of students we’ve been able to impact in the last three years,” said Fitzgerald. The D-backs $150,000 School Challenge was launched in 2012, encouraging schools to “make their best pitch” for a $5,000 grant. Submissions can come from any Arizona public, private, or nonprofit charter school in categories including educational programs, innovation and technology, nutrition and fitness or school/campus improvements. Of the 30 winning schools this year, projects ranged from family reading to STEM, PE equipment to garden projects, fitness and nutritious cooking. Other winning schools this year include Kyrene de los Niños for its Dual Language Kidcaster program, Kyrene Monte Vista for first-grade classroom computers and East Valley Institute of Technology for Digital Sculpting for Animation and Game Art. Each year the schools get more creative with their requests, and it was particularly exciting this year to see how recipients will use the money from innovative education programs to making necessary school improvements,” said D-backs President and CEO Derrick Hall. Winning schools will also receive tickets for students and staff to attend a spring 2015 Diamondbacks game and be presented a check on the field. Students or peer mentors interested in starting a United Sound Ensemble music club at their school can contact their music teacher with the United Sound information and registration forms available at UnitedSound.org.
Tempe High students were joined by D-backs pitcher Bronson Arroyo when they received a check for $5,000 for band program pairing special needs students with their typical peers.
By Michelle Hirsch