Music for Social Change: Research in Practice with Kidznotes and El Sistema USA (2018-2019)


El Sistema is an evidence-based system of music education for social change. Founded in Venezuela in 1975, El Sistema and its worldwide replications create an environment of opportunity through the collective practice of orchestral playing and choral singing as a model for personal, social, academic and musical development. Through a focus on low-income youth, these programs serve a long-term agenda to combat systemic and intergenerational poverty.

This movement is present in the U.S. and locally within the Research Triangle of North Carolina. El Sistema USA (ESUSA) has 160 nonprofit members and affiliates. Kidznotes, an El Sistema-inspired program launched in 2010 in East Durham, serves 500 students annually in grades K-10 throughout Durham and Southeast Raleigh.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will focus on facilitating research capacities and building research among ESUSA programs, including deepened engagement with local programs. The project team has two related objectives:

  • Conduct applied evaluation research with Kidznotes, with a primary focus on understanding effects on parents and a secondary focus on understanding effects on youth participants
  • Build the research and evaluation capacities of other ESUSA members through sharing of processes implemented with Kidznotes, with a focus on research and evaluation related to parents and families.

For the first objective, Kidznotes will serve as the focal implementation site for research and evaluation efforts. The team will participate in implementing data collection processes for assessing the impact of Kidznotes programming for parents, as well as parent reporting on their children’s Kidznotes-based outcomes. Effect on parents is an essential but understudied aspect of El Sistema programming, given the community and family perspective of El Sistema and the embeddedness of youth within families. Parent reporting on youth outcomes is a meaningful and often-utilized form of understanding programs’ effect on children, and it is currently missing from an existing Duke/Kidznotes study of youth outcomes.

For the second objective, ESUSA will lead the team in building the capacity of ESUSA member programs in research and evaluation, with a focus on impact for parents and families. The team will make parent data collection instruments used at Kidznotes available to select other El Sistema program sites, and will work to develop mechanisms for sharing research and building research capacity for ESUSA programs across the U.S.

Anticipated Outcomes

Improved understanding of changes in parent behavior, knowledge, and attitudes as a result of their children’s engagement in ESUSA member programs; mechanisms to highlight research and share best practices in ending educational inequality for low-income students through the framework of El Sistema-inspired programs

Student Opportunities

Students will be engaged in the following research processes: development of a data collection instrument (graduate student only, summer); collection of local data at Kidznotes with a pilot research tool; design of data management system for parent research; analysis of collected quantitative data; design of materials and communication for this evaluation tool to be used at a national scale, supporting ESUSA member programs; and development of mechanisms for sharing research and building research capacity for ESUSA programs. In addition, two graduate students will have the opportunity to take on a leadership role as project managers.

The team will ideally include one master’s student in social sciences or statistical science and three to four undergraduates in the social sciences and the arts to support research on impact of El Sistema; one graduate student from public policy, education and/or music to serve as project manager in leading undergraduate student team members in preparing for the Spring 2019 work to develop mechanisms for sharing research and building research capacity for ESUSA programs across the U.S.

The team will meet each week. Individual sessions will include foundational framing on El Sistema programs and Kidznotes itself, teaching and learning on research methods related to the project, active engagement in research processes (e.g., survey design and implementation) and active engagement in research capacity-building efforts. Kidznotes and ESUSA leadership will be directly involved in this component.

Student team members will have deliverables connected to the deadlines of the planning and research goals. They will have required assignments to facilitate meeting these deadlines, as well as semester project presentations. Graduate student project managers will also receive a formal performance review process of job expectations, goal setting, progress and assessment.


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019

The team will meet on Wednesdays, 1:15-2:40 p.m.

  • Summer 2018: Graduate student (undergraduates not involved at this point) prepares pre-program parent survey for implementation (content development, data collection planning, programming), develops planning for scaling research nationally by making pre-program parent data collection process available to other interested ESUSA member programs
  • Fall 2018: Parent-level data collection: Implement data collection instrument, analyze pre-program results, share results with Kidznotes and other ESUSA sites electing to participate in parent pre-program data collection; Youth-level data collection: implement youth pre-program data at Kidznotes, analyze pre-program results
  • Spring 2019: Parent-level data collection: prepare and implement post-program parent survey; develop statistical syntax for parent survey pre/post program analysis; Youth-level data collection: collect Kidznotes youth-level post-program data


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

See earlier related team, El Sistema USA and Duke: Advancing the Power of Music for Human Development (2017-2018).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Megan Gray, Social Science Research Institute*
Victoria Lee, SSRI
Scott Lindroth, Arts & Sciences-Music
Menna Mburi, Social Science Research Institute
Lorrie Schmid, Social Science Research Institute
Jessica Sperling Smokoski, Social Science Research Institute*
Kathryn Wyatt, Arts & Sciences-Music*

Graduate Team Members

Jee Young Kim, Psychology-PHD
Chelsea Probus, Religious Studies-AM
Adam Stanaland, Psychology-PHD

Undergraduate Team Members

Paula Ajumobi, Int Comparative Studies (AB), Spanish (AB2)
Joshua Azza, Biology (BS)
Jacob Rubin

Community Team Members

El Sistema USA
Nick Malinowski, Kidznotes

* denotes team leader


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