Youth, Music and Social Change: Building the Evidence Base with Kidznotes and El Sistema USA (2019-2020)


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

This movement is present in the U.S. and locally in the Triangle. El Sistema USA (ESUSA) was founded in 2014 to bolster the capacity of local organizations and initiate fruitful collaboration and now has over 110 nonprofit members. One aspect of the El Sistema model is its focus on meaningful collaboration with the communities it serves, specifically parents and families of students. However, to date, there is a lack of research on parental involvement and its effect on parents and youth.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project builds on the work of the 2018-2019 project team. This year’s team will conduct research with Kidznotes to further develop the pilot study. An El Sistema-inspired program launched in 2010 in East Durham, Kidznotes serves 500 students annually in grades K-10 throughout Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill. This team’s work will include a primary focus on understanding effects on parents and a secondary focus on understanding effects on youth participants.

The project team will also use case studies of El Sistema-inspired programs nationally, combined with findings from the Kidznotes research in 2018-2019, to build the research and evaluation capacities of other members of the ESUSA network. Kidznotes will serve as the focal implementation site for research and evaluation efforts. Team members 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.

Through case studies of and engagement with ESUSA member organizations across the country, team members will explore the feasibility of making parent data collection instruments used at Kidznotes available to select other El Sistema program sites. In addition, the team will develop mechanisms to make research findings on El Sistema program outcomes accessible and comprehensible to ESUSA member organizations’ leadership, staff and family participants.

Anticipated Outputs

Conference presentation and publication; case study documentation; data collection processes and instruments for ESUSA member organizations; “Research for All” materials published on ESUSA website and presented at ESUSA national conference; data for future grant proposals


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Fall 2019: Instruction on core topical areas related to project/partners (for undergraduates); “Research for All” creation and public dissemination; ESUSA case studies; baseline parent- and youth-level data collection; student in-class presentations
  • Spring 2020: Continued instruction on core topical areas related to project/partners (for undergraduates); ESUSA case studies; end-of-year parent- and youth-level data collection; student in-class presentations

See earlier related team, Music for Social Change: Research in Practice with Kidznotes and El Sistema USA (2018-2019).

El Sistema and Kidznotes logos.

Team Leaders

  • Megan Gray, Social Science Research Institute
  • Jessica Sperling Smokoski, Social Science Research Institute
  • Kathryn Wyatt, Arts & Sciences-Music

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Victoria Lee, Social Science Research Institute
  • Menna Mburi, Social Science Research Institute
  • Lorrie Schmid, Social Science Research Institute

/zcommunity Team Members

  • El Sistema USA
  • Nick Malinowski, Kidznotes
  • Stephen Pysnik, Kidznotes
  • Josh deVries, El Sistema USA