Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Afterschool and the Power of Music

Source: Long Beach Youth Institute 

By Sam Piha

Because music is so important to young people’s development and identity, we wanted to interview an afterschool innovator on how his organization engages with young people through music. We first learned about the Youth Institute (YMCA of Greater Long Beach) many years ago when they were training young people and afterschool staff how to use computer technology to make movies. Below is an interview with the Youth Institute’s Director, Les Peters, on how they are paving the way for the use of music in afterschool. We also spoke with Kevin Peraza, a Youth Institute Alumni from 2007.

Q: In terms of your music program, what ages of youth do you serve?
We manage afterschool programs for all ages of youth,  but our music programs serve youth ages 15 - 18 (High School). 

Q: Do you think music is important to youth? If yes, why?
Yes, it is very important. It provides an opportunity to express themselves, if they have difficulties expressing feelings and emotions. It uses the same side of the brain as math and science. We teach digital music production, guitar, and drum lessons to our youth. 

Source: Long Beach Youth Institute 

Q: Currently how does your program engage youth in music? 
A: We currently engage youth with music by teaching participants how to play an instrument, teaching them Dj skills, how to make beats, record music and sponsoring youth to play in a band.

Q: Please describe one example of how your program engages youth with music?
For the past 21 years, in the Long Beach Youth Institute (YI) we have used music as one of our engagement strategies to support academic success, creativity expression and workforce development. It began with teaching the guitar to introducing digital music production and keyboard (piano) basics to evolve into making beats for their short films. For those teens who progressed in guitar & piano playing they started to record themselves and other teens started to use them for their films. Guest musicians and producers would volunteer with the YI to further develop the skill sets of the youth. Those youth who were in band and orchestra in high school would practice at the YI, because they didn’t have the space at home. Our youth formed a rock band and organized a battle of the band event for local area youth. In 2017, the YI was fortunate to have a partnership with Levi’s and a local musician/artist who wanted to give back to their community. Rapper and North Long Beach local – Vince Staples came to the YI to provide his experience in the music business and Levi’s provides financial support to expand our Digital Music program. Levi’s shot a commercial at the YI, with our youth as extras. 

[You can view a brief video about the Levi's/ Snoop Dogg project that features Snoop Dogg working directly with kids.] 

Then in 2019, Levi’s came back to us with another opportunity – artist Snoop Dog wanted to work with us, and he spoke to the youth about his career, and he brought his producing staff and taught professional beat making, song arrangement, and DJ skills. Snoop Dog even purchased a few of the beats our youth made during that time. At our new building location, the YI has a dedicated music room, with all the equipment we received from Vince Staples, Snoop Dog, and Levi’s. This music room has created an opportunity for our youth to have space to express and create. Our youth have started to create Podcasts, recording, and practicing their drums and guitar.

Source: Long Beach Youth Institute 

Q: What benefits do you think come from youth engagement with music?
A: The benefits we see are creative expression, improved social skills, manage emotions & stress, self-esteem booster, and perform better academically. The Youth Institute (YI) historically has been recognized for its ability to engage youth at different levels with a vast array of program activities; with music being one of the most popular. Many of our youth pursue post-secondary degrees in music because of their engagement in the YI. Workforce development is another benefit, with our social enterprise business – Change Agent Productions. Some of our youth are hired to create background music, loops, and narrative for videos and commercials. 

Q: What benefits do you think carry into adulthood?
As our youth transition into young adulthood, we have seen them have increased self-confidence, social growth, more creative and have a greater awareness of tolerance. We have seen youth come to us quiet, shy, non-social, but evolve to being social, leaders, and staff in the Youth Institute or other afterschool programs.

Below we share responses from YI’s 2007 alumni, Kevin Peraza.

Q: Do you think music is important to youth, If yes, why?
I think music is an important part of finding identity. Culturally speaking. Different genres can affect a young person’s personality. Going further and learning how music is made allows youth to dissect the parts of music that resonate with them. Which can be a really cathartic experience.

Kevin Peraza playing in his band.

 Q: Give one example of how the Youth Institute program engages youth with music?
A: On a base level the YI gives youth their first and, in some cases, only experience with music. The equipment that’s readily available makes it so easy to try it. Whether it’s garage band on the macs or picking up a guitar that many mentors have lying around. In my experience the YI bought band equipment so that some of the youth could try their first experience at playing music with a collective group of like-minded individuals. In the past they have even held a battle of the bands for local Long Beach high school bands. Which was for most participants their first experience of being on stage performing for a crowd.

I think the YI understands the importance of music and the positive effect it can have on youth with a deep desire to express themselves.


Les Peters
Les Peters
currently works for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach, Youth Institute, a national recognized Teen Youth Development & Digital Media Arts program as the Executive Director of Youth Institute & Curriculum Development. He has over seventeen years of experience in youth development and over fourteen years in digital media arts technology. He develops and implements after-school and year-round programming for low-income urban youth of color, provides diversity training and develops creative academic & social skills through the use of multi-media technology.

Kevin Peraza
Kevin Peraza is a Youth Institute Alumni from 2007 who was fortunate to participate in all of their music activities: playing guitar, took part in YI’s youth band and did work with Change Agent Productions. Today Kevin is a young adult who is a filmmaker and still plays in a band. 

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