OrchKids to receive $1 million gift

OrchKids, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's innovative educational initiative launched last year at an inner city school, will receive a $1 million gift from Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker. The Baltimore philanthropists were among the early supporters of the project, which received its initial seed money of $100,000 from BSO music director Marin Alsop.

The $1 million contribution was scheduled to be announced Wednesday morning at Lockerman Bundy Elementary School, where the OrchKids program moved this year after the initial site, Harriet Tubman Elementary School, was closed.

Currently, more than 150 pre-K to second-graders are part of the OrchKids program at Lockerman Bundy. The Meyerhoff/Becker gift is estimated to cover 50 percent of the expenses over the next four years, as more grades are added to the program; more than 300 students are eventually expected to participate.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andres Alonso are scheduled to appear at the press conference announcing the gift. The school system is a partner in OrchKids, which is provided by the BSO at no cost to students or schools.

In remarks prepared for the press conference, Meyerhoff said: "I have, for many years, been interested in providing educational opportunities to the underserved population. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC provides the opportunity to study and earn advanced degrees in math and science. The OrchKids project is focused on this same population in the beginning of their educational life. We're hoping to make a big difference there so that they can learn skills such as working with a team to produce something so beautiful and joyous as music. Rheda's long-standing relationship with the BSO and her interest in education makes us the happiest of partners in the OrchKids program."

The $1 million gift will be used to fund more teachers, musical instruments and an additional administrator for OrchKids.

"The growth of the OrchKids program would not be possible without this visionary gift from Bob and Rheda," BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham said in a statement. "It is a huge vote of confidence in the remarkable progress already shown by the young students, whom they have come to know and love. Their gift...will hopefully inspire others to help make a real difference in these children's lives."

And Lockerman Bundy principal Cynthia Cunningham said: "In the few months that OrchKids has called our school home, I have seen measurable progress in the students enrolled in the program. Children who previously struggled to complete assignments on time are now leading their classes academically. Some of the same students who were often sent to my office for behavioral issues have become a delight to their teachers. They exude a new sense of pride. OrchKids' members are thriving."

The year-round program includes music instruction during the regular school day twice a week and after-school group lessons four days a week. Students are taught basics of music and are gradually given an opportunity to learn an instrument.

OrchKids is patterned after El Sistema, a project in Venezuela that, over the past three decades, has served hundreds of thousands of children, most of them living in poverty, and has produced numerous youth orchestras.