As music programs are disappearing from schools, the East Chicago Arts Initiative (ECAI) is working to bring after school musical education to students within the School City of East Chicago. One program that allows them to do this is the El Sistema Orchestra.


El Sistema brings orchestral musical training to students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the violin, cello, bass or other expensive instruments. Those who teach the program are trained in both classical music and education.


The El Sistema program was created with the emphasis of three pillars: free, frequent and parental involvement. The program must be free for all students to participate. This ensures that everyone has a chance to practice music, not just those children whose families can afford it. The program must also meet frequently. The students involved in El Sistema meet four times a week to practice and learn new skills. This also gives them a safe, constructive environment in which to be during after-school hours. Finally, the program must create plenty of opportunities for parents to get involved in what their students are doing. This not only helps them to know where their kids are, but the students also feel proud to show their parents what they have learned.


El Sistema involves the parents by inviting them to three Parents’ Nights each year. These events consist of a concert put on in the Washington Elementary School auditorium by the students, paired with explanations of what they have been working on. After the performance, everyone is invited to stay for snacks and refreshments. This gives the parents another opportunity to talk with the instructors and others involved with the program.


This program is finishing up its third year and has continued to grow. There are now student participants from Washington, Lincoln and McKinley elementary schools. ECAI pays to have those from Lincoln and McKinley bussed over to Washington for practices and events.


ECAI is a nonprofit organization, so funding for the El Sistema program comes from the Foundations of East Chicago (FEC), SodexoMAGIC, the Legacy Foundation and other donors. To learn more about how El Sistema is impacting the children of East Chicago, visit


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