In Yakima’s Garfield Elementary School, Principal Alan Matsumoto ’75 is hearing music ring through the halls after school. With 100 percent of the students facing poverty, the afterschool Yakima Music en Acción (YAMA) gives them the opportunity to transcend their circumstances with instruments.

YAMA, based on a Venezuelan program called El Sistema, brings professional musicians to the school to teach Garfield students how to play violins, cellos, and other instruments in ensemble groups.

The program launched four years ago with just seven students. Matsumoto says he first heard about El Sistema from Stephanie Hsu, who had recently graduated from training and now leads YAMA. “She could have started a fully-funded program in Boston, but Stephanie chose to come to Yakima.”

They received consistent support from the Yakima Symphony, community members, parents, teachers, and school staff. YAMA has grown to 57 students from all over the district this year and is funded primarily with philanthropy.

Matsumoto says he sees the difference with the kids. “They know the value of education and work really hard,” he says.

Some YAMA students have seen their grades improve. YAMA and the 61 other similar music programs around the United States are gathering data on academic improvement.

One thing is certain: All of the students have seen growth in their confidence and self-esteem as they learn to play beautiful music together.

Matsumoto says YAMA exposed kids to the potential of attending college through visits to Central Washington University and community colleges. This year three kids were even invited to the Aspen Music Festival, all expenses paid.

“I’d love to see one of our YAMA students as director of the Yakima Symphony one day,” he says.

audio_iconListen to the storiesand the music—at Northwest Public Radio. Part One: The YAMA program and its history; Part Two: Students in YAMA, and how they and their parents have benefitted; Part Three: The future of the YAMA program.


Also watch for the documentary series about YAMA on KWSU-TV, Northwest Public Television from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.