Efforts in Palm Springs Unified School District Draw Similarities to ‘The Last Repair Shop’

Parallels to 'The Last Repair Shop'PALM SPRINGS — If you saw the 2024 Oscar-winning Documentary Short, “The Last Repair Shop,” you will undoubtedly see some similarities between the documentary and what the Palm Springs Unified School District Foundation has done.

They are in no way identical, but similar in how musical education in schools is imperative.

In “The Last Repair Shop,” directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers, a dwindling handful of devoted craftspeople maintain more than 80,000 student musical instruments, the largest remaining workshop in America of its kind. They do it all in a nondescript warehouse in the heart of Los Angeles.

The PSUSD Foundation recently completed a three-year campaign to raise money for musical instruments, raising $100,000 to donate 300 all-new Casio CT-S200 Keyboards to every elementary school music classroom in the school district.

“We are working hard to ensure this student population, 97% of which are socioeconomically disadvantaged, are given every opportunity to realize their own potential, to grow in confidence and to be part of a flourishing community,” Jo-Anne Ebensteiner told Uken Report. She serves on the Board of The Foundation for PSUSD, and supports Ellen Goodman, Director of The Foundation, with communications.

While the district has talented music teachers for the 16 elementary schools, the music curriculum has supported theory-based instruction. What that means is there was really no applied learning or hands-on practical learning with real instruments to apply these concepts, Ebensteiner said.

“We know music matters for academic performances; the arts in nearly all forms boost cognitive development and critical thinking skills,” she said. “This made sense to us as a foundation to complement curriculum and grow student potential.”

Parallels to 'The Last Repair Shop'

Opening the keyboards

So, the Foundation helped pay for a three-year progressive program for elementary students; it was a scaffolding approach. Initially, third graders were provided recorders, then by fourth grade, they received ukuleles, and now, in the fifth grade, they’ve graduated to keyboards. The approach was based in the notion that once a third grader could understand concepts like notes, timing, posture, breath, among others, they could then apply that knowledge to more complex instruments the following years.

By the time the third and fourth graders have completed their classes, they are better positioned to take on a sophisticated instrument like the keyboard with greater range for creative expression. For the three years, they move progressively through the music education program applying music concepts to more progressively complex instruments.

The breakdown:

  • For 3rd grade, every 3rd grader in 16 elementary schools received a recorder
  • For 4th grade, 400 ukuleles were awarded, 25 per music classroom in 16 elementary schools
  • For 5th grade, 300 keyboards are being distributed, 19 per music classroom in 16 elementary schools

Dana Zahler, the music teacher —and Teacher of the Year this year — at Della Lindley Elementary, said, “Students feel excited and amazed to have the opportunity to use piano keyboards in music class! Playing music on piano is an advanced skill that many children do not have access to in our community without taking private lessons.  Students are thrilled (and a little daunted!) to learn to play a familiar song and be creative on these piano keyboards.

“Students are immediately excited to play songs for each other and family,” Zahler said. “It can be difficult to coordinate music reading and finger playing, so when a student learns to play a song, it is very exciting.  Students develop a growing sense of confidence as their skills develop and talk about wanting to learn more.  Many students also find a new outlet for their creativity using piano keyboards, writing their own songs, and playing them for others. With excited voices they call people over to hear what they have just playing on the pianos!  They all have something to express and share.  With this gift, The Foundation provides a unique, special and remarkable opportunity for students across all PSUSD elementary schools to hone musical skill and self-expression using piano keyboards.”

In a statement, Dr. John Iversen, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Diego, said, “Music really is a work-out for young minds. The act of learning music and performing coordinates movements, hearing, vision, and memory in real time, creating new neural pathways in the brain.”

After the pandemic, experts note that standardized math and reading test scores across the country fell to levels from the last century. “Improving academic achievement is more critical than ever,” said Ellen Goodman, director for The Foundation for PSUSD. “The arts can help us. We need creativity to help regain lost ground.”

Whether the instruments are new or in need of The Last Repair Shop, the goal is the same.



Image Sources

  • Foundation Keyboards: PSUSD Foundation
  • Foundation Keyboards: PSUSD Foundation
  • Casio keyboard: Casio