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Vista Unified School District has been recognized as one of the ‘Best Communities for Music Education’ by the prestigious NAMM Foundation (National Association of Music Merchants). NAMM is the trade group for music instrument manufacturers and retailers, and the owners of the renowned Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad. 

The Foundation’s awards honor districts and individual schools that display a significant commitment to ensuring student access to music education.

Susan Stuber advocates for Vista Unified’s Visual and Performing Arts programs, working with each school’s music program as the district’s Music Resource Teacher on Special Assignment. When asked what it means to receive the NAMM award, which honors schools nationwide, Stuber says, “It really is a testament to what our district is doing. Our arts programs have truly expanded under the leadership of Superintendent Matt Doyle and the school board.”

Although her role is new within the district she was determined to apply for the NAMM award after being inspired by the investment the district has made in music education.

But it wasn’t easy. Stuber says the strict NAMM application took close to 70 hours of research and preparation to complete. She worked with team member Steve Davis who created algorithms to collate data required for the application.

The application information included specifics about how many staff the district assigns to music education, staff credentials, how many students from each grade in the district take music, and how many of those are Title One or high-needs students. 

“Arts programs were really decimated when we were hit by the pandemic,” explains Stuber. “We lost choir and band programs. But because of the support, we've really begun building them back up. So much work has been done by our teachers, by the leadership, and our school board.”

Stuber said application research revealed that 41% of elementary students taking music are given the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. She added that eight Vista elementary schools provide compulsory music classes and that roughly 28% of middle school and high school students take music classes.

When asked about the impact and benefits that the arts, and music in particular, can have on students’ lives, Stuber tells of a recent conversation with Vista Deputy Mayor Katie Melendez, who came through the district’s school system where she studied theater. 

“She said she was shy,” recalls Stuber, “and that getting the chance to be on stage gave her the confidence to go on and be able to give speeches in public. I think the same holds true for musicians being able to perform, whether you're singing or playing an instrument. Being part of that group experience helps build confidence to step out and take risks as an adult. 

“I don't anticipate that former students are necessarily still playing instruments - maybe for their own enjoyment - but it's the skill of being able to manage the nerves, to produce a tone or a sound, and function and do your part in a group. To me, that's key about our performance opportunities.”

All of these opportunities are made possible by Vista Unified’s Strategic Arts Plan, in which Stuber is heavily involved. “A lot of thought has been put in on how to grow and develop our Arts Plan,” she explains, “which is made up of music, visual art, dance, drama, and media arts programs.”

The Plan covers key components including the infrastructure and building partnerships with the community to help get students exposed to more arts; the instructional aspect, including professional development and training to ensure teachers are highly skilled; and the resources and sustainability aspect, including continued efforts to fund district arts programs. 

It’s little wonder that Stuber’s dedication and focus on the district’s programs led to Vista Unified being honored with the NAMM award, which they discovered in April. Earlier in the year the district had another magical moment at the NAMM show at the Anaheim Convention Center in January.

She recalls that a highlight of the event was the Mission Vista High School steel drum group being invited to perform on the convention’s main stage; a few hours later that same stage hosted a performance from superstar Stevie Wonder. 

“Getting this recognition really helps verify that we are doing something that is making a difference in students’ lives,” concludes Stuber. 

“We have a very vibrant music education pathway in Vista, with a lot of variety. From traditional elementary music programs to choirs, as well as opportunities to participate in bands. We even have a string program and a mariachi program. We hope to continue growing, but we're thriving and we've got something for everyone.”