By Heather Calvert
Play On, Philly! is an after-school orchestral music education program started by Stanford Thompson, with funding from philanthropist Carole Haas Gravagno, at St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia in the fall of 2011. Based on the long-successful Venezuelan El Sistema music education system, Play On, Philly! seeks to prove with a 3-year pilot study that music education can be a force for social change in Philadelphia. The music instruction is delivered by teaching artists, including accomplished musicians that graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music, and students are given multiple opportunities to publicly perform and learn from world-class artists. The system seeks to build on each year’s success so that as students become accomplished musicians, they then teach the students behind them in the program. The pilot plans to collect data to show that students in the program improve their self-perceptions; academic motivation, achievement, and school attendance; social-emotional and behavioral development; and complex cognitive processes, all while learning to play and perform a musical instrument. Thompson and his Play On, Philly! team are currently reviewing applications for new partner sites beginning this fall with plans to engage over 300 children each weekday in their 3-hour after school program.