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Making art education accessible: Grant allows San Juan Unified teacher to purchase mini pianos

Making art education accessible: Grant allows San Juan Unified teacher to purchase mini pianos

Christopher Langton, music teacher at Mission Avenue Open Elementary School, travels around campus with a portable cart full of musical instruments and supplies. While he has taught several different music units throughout his career, he’s now excited about exposing his students to basic piano lessons that were made possible by an arts education grant provided by the San Juan Education Foundation. 

“[Piano] is one of those instruments that’s loved universally, but also completely inaccessible,” Langton said. “If you want to play piano as a kid, you basically have to take piano lessons and if your family can’t afford lessons, then this entire instrument is not an option.”

Today, sixth-grade students at Mission have access to mini plug-and-play pianos that connect to their Chromebooks. Soon, fifth-grade students will have the same opportunity. Access to these pianos will impact around 120 students overall annually, teaching them how to read music and how to coordinate what they see with what they do at the press of a finger. 

For Mission, receiving this arts education grant means opportunity. 

“Music teachers get used to doing a lot with very little resources, and to have an opportunity to actually roll out, even a small form of a very legitimate instrument, opened some doors for us,” Langton said. 

He describes the moment students first started using the pianos after receiving the grant. “I have never heard a sixth-grade class so quiet,” he said. “Suddenly, not a peep in the room. It was almost spooky how focused they were on the task at hand.”

Langton believes the benefits of art education are endless. Not only does he assert that students get better test scores, and become better readers and collaborators, but he describes how art helps students develop emotionally.

“The arts are important on their own. Every single human is musical. Every human loves music,” he said. “I think having a deep understanding and appreciation of that makes kids a lot more connected to what it is to be human.”

Langton hopes that exposing students to piano may spark an interest that lasts until their late teens, twenties and beyond. 

“It’s not about creating virtuosos. It’s about giving them an experience that maybe can plant the seed for something in the future,” he said.

The San Juan Education Foundation, through the support of Link Logistics’ Community Grants Program, provides this arts education grant opportunity to fund program materials and equipment like Mission’s mini pianos across all five arts disciplines (dance, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts) at San Juan Unified schools. To learn more, visit