Mayra Luis Juan is a teaching partner at Van Nuys Elementary School in Los Angeles, California. Her interview is also featured in our 2021 annual report.
Tell us a little bit about your childhood and where you grew up. Did you have music in school as a child?
I grew up in Ciudad Guzmán Jalisco, Mexico, until I was 10 years old. This is a place where the arts, mariachi music, banda, folkloric dance, and family is special. Music was a part of me growing up because it was a component of family parties and everyday life. I did not have music class in elementary school, but we participated in schoolwide dance and art activities to celebrate our culture.
When I moved to the United States, listening to music became a safety net to help me cope with adversity in middle and high school. During middle school, I participated in choir, and I took guitar classes in college.
Where did you go to school and college, and what did you study?
I attended Toluca Lake Elementary, Walter Reed Middle School, North Hollywood High, and Los Angeles Valley College and Cal State Northridge. In college, I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies.
As a non-music teacher, what inspired you to start this program at Van Nuys Elementary School?
I was inspired to start this program because I believe students should find positive identities. For me, playing high school and college soccer made school so meaningful because I made friends, learned a skill, got better, created a community, and it was fun! Having this guitar program allows me to replicate this experience for students and lets them be part of something special. I believe our students benefit from feeling pride in their work, develop confidence, and find success in doing difficult things by learning to play instruments.
What were some of the biggest challenges in starting a guitar program at Van Nuys?
One challenge was that our school does not have enough technology, so getting a projector to project the music sheets for the guitar class was very difficult. Even this school year, I’m struggling to have our school provide a projector to keep in the auditorium for the class. In addition, scheduling a time for guitar was challenging because we have to share the auditorium space with other classes like assemblies, or workshops.
Online learning was a challenge when it came to tuning and group performances, but it was nice to see that at our school, every guitar was checked out, and students were engaged. I think the greatest challenge was that students have not gotten a chance to perform for our school community due to COVID.
How did partnering with Lead Guitar impact Van Nuys Elementary School?
Partnering with Lead Guitar impacted Van Nuys Elementary in positive ways as parents and staff came together as a community to donate guitars for the students. Our students have gotten a sense of pride in themselves, and previous students have mentioned that guitar was one of their favorite things to do at school.
What advice do you have to students beginning the program?
My advice to students is to have fun! Give yourself the chance to be amazing with the instrument, even if it takes you some time.