Fostering Environmental Stewardship in Sistema Programs

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Fostering Environmental Stewardship in Sistema Programs

Keane Southard, Composer and Pianist


One of our core tenets in the El Sistema movement is that great music education can be more than training on an instrument—it can create better citizens who contribute positively in all aspects of our world. We teach our students to take care of their instruments, the facilities they use, and their classmates and communities. Shouldn’t we also teach them to take care of the environment as well? After all, their generation is going to be dealing with the effects of climate change for their entire lives, so we have a duty to prepare them to confront the mounting challenges of environmental degradation.

As we all ponder what it might look like to foster environmental stewardship for Sistema programs, I have some ideas to share. The biggest way to reduce impact is through doing more with less and cutting out what is unnecessary, especially concerning material items. For example, one might ask, “Do we really need to buy bottled water when we already have clean drinking fountains at our facilities?” And, whatever actions we take, it is important to talk with our students and community about what we are doing and why. We all need to take action on this problem, and our Sistema programs are a great place to start.

Editor’s Note: Sistema programs provide music education in an ensemble context. This can (and perhaps should) be intrinsically related to environmental activism—it is about creating civically responsible young people who understand the connectedness between one another and other living things. Perhaps our students can develop long-term projects, like creating workshops alongside teaching artists and families to integrate a recycling program at your nucleo. Clean-up drives can serve to benefit the local community’s environment, while building relationships among those who participate. And, of course, we can invite other arts and community organizations to join us for a day of environmental service. But the biggest change we can make is in our thinking—the environment is the foundation of personal health, healthy communities and functioning societies.


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