Students Left Out as Montebello Music Teacher Ms. Diaz Fights for More Instruments and Resources

Students watch other students have band practice.

“We don’t have the budget this year,” is probably the most expected, yet, least desired set of words a teacher wants to hear when they ask for help and resources. But such is the case for many educators, like Los Angeles middle school band and orchestra music teacher Ms. Laura-Ruby Diaz. As most of the world already knows, 2020 has been abysmal; from the outbreak of the pandemic, economic devastation, political division, and racial civil unrest, everyone is suffering in one way or another. However, educators will bear the brunt of it as they are fighting a war on two fronts; against parents who want their children in school and administrators who are buckling under political pressure to reopen schools to the detriment of everyone’s health. On top of it all, Ms. Diaz had to quickly learn how to teach online and does not have enough instruments for her students.

“I am raising funds to start a Mariachi program,” Ms. Diaz says, “where my kids are able to perform within the Hispanic community at public events. Playing music that is relevant to them and the community they live in. The music budget continues to shrink, if I want to do anything outside of the norm, I have to be able to fund it.” The crucial areas of success for an instrumental music program to survive are the recruitment and retention of students, parental support, administrative support and funding[1]. Her last orchestra concert was overflowing with performances from her music students, their enthusiastic parents, and supported by the school staff and administration. But regarding sustainability, and as harsh as it is to say, enthusiasm can only take a program so far. At this point, funding is the most crucial area for Ms. Diaz to focus on. If there are no instruments, students cannot play music and there will be nothing for parents and school staff to support.

“Ordering instruments & outfits [for a Mariachi program] is costly”, Ms. Diaz explains, “and although administrators know the benefits of having such a program at our site, their answer is always the same when it comes to funding projects.” Because of this predictability, Ms. Diaz has already planned that it will take her about two years to fund a Mariachi music program on top of her regular music program. She teaches at a Title I school where over 75% of students are free discounted lunch recipients and unable to receive supplemental music instruction through private lessons or step-up materials. They struggle to obtain instruments playing supplies and basic school supplies. Nearly all the students play on school-owned instruments.” Unlike other public school systems that might have professional development, mentoring initiatives for music teachers[2], Ms. Diaz is on her own and has had to find resources outside of what her district can provide. Last year, she spent over $1,000 of her own money repairing and providing materials for her music students.

Ms. Diaz conducting her middle school band in the Spring of 2020.

In an era where science and technology are highly valued and respected, so is the study of S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. Music and art classes are almost always the first to have their budget cut or have their program be eliminated altogether. But, don’t schools make money from attendance even if the student chooses an art or music elective? Well, apart from society incentivizing a future full of stem jobs and prioritizing stem classes, there are other factors that determine the sustainability of a music program and its student enrollment. 

A study has shown that academic achievement and family structure emerged as the only significant predictors of initial enrollment decisions. Higher academically achieving students and those from two-parent or two-guardian homes were more likely to begin band instruction[3]. The conundrum here is that despite a parent’s enthusiasm for their child to play music, there will still be many two-parent or two-guardian low-income families out there who are struggling to provide for their children’s well-being and shelter.  So, while many middle-class to upper-middle class music students are involved with bake sales, car washes and have parent volunteers to help organize these fundraisers, students in lower income families do not have the financial means or the availability of their parents to volunteer. So, the bake sale is out of the question for them--the school would have to provide them an instrument.

Further, there is a gross disadvantage here; that despite a family’s desire and effort to provide an enriched education, or that of an equally enriched one to their peers, they cannot no matter how hard they try. And that is why it is important for institutions, like schools, to be equitable because they can leverage access to resources across their whole student body, regardless of household income. A school teacher, like Ms. Diaz, is already a servant to the community and should not have to pull $1,000 out of her own pocket.

“My goal is to give access to music as a tool of expression for the students of marginalized communities with limited resources,” Ms. Diaz expressed. “I want to bring music that is more relevant to us and them, look beyond the lens of Euro-centric music & instruments. More than 60% of the students at my school are of Latino/Hispanic backgrounds, when they come to class they learn about the accomplishments of people that many times don’t look like them, music class included.” The irony lies in the fact that those communities that could benefit the most from music education are, sadly, the ones who cannot afford it. Therefore, it is recommended that more money be put into music education so children of low socio-economic backgrounds can have more of a chance to play musical instruments[4]. “The issues on my part of the music industry are synchronously tied with the shortcomings of education and in many ways to the racial disparities in our society; a lack of resources and creative outlets in the communities that most desperately need them.”

A portrait of Ms. Diaz in her home in Los Angeles, CA.

“I have always loved school because it is a place that empowers individuals to grow, overcome and succeed,” Ms. Diaz reminisces, “especially for a musician like myself, school was more than a place of learning, it was a place filled with endless creative outlets. I want to provide the same creative outlets to my students.”

Tips for Teachers to use Culturally Responsive Techniques in Ensembles[5]

  1. Include multiple ethnicities; 
  2. Have specialized or alternative ensembles; 
  3. Be flexible, with regards to scheduling their classes; and 
  4. Find local support.

Ms. Diaz’s Tips for Students

For students just learning to play an instrument:  
  1. Be consistent with your practice. Even if you can only play for 10 minutes a day, do it everyday.
  2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes teach us how to play correctly. Everybody makes them, learn from them and move on. 
  3. Start slow! Use a metronome and monitor your techniques. You’re not gonna play crazy solos your 2nd day of practice, but with enough practice and dedication you will surely get there. 
  4. Break down the unfamiliar or the difficult passages even if you have to take it one measure at a time.
  5. Explore your instrument and have fun with what you play.  If the classical piece or scale you are practicing bores you, play with the rhythm, change up the melody to take a break from it or simply learn to play a tune you like. 

Building Something From Nothing 

In 2019, Ms. Diaz is with her students during a rehearsal for a Harry Potter stage play.

Ms. Diaz was always an advocate for the arts. Three years ago, students performed scenes from Romeo and Juliet using milk crates and butcher paper. A year later, she pushed further and developed her school’s dramatic arts program; putting on a Harry Potter stage play on the cafeteria stage, which hasn’t been used for 14 years. While there are beliefs that even with poor facilities, music educators can deliver effective and relevant music technology programs that engage students with school music[5], funds in the right hands can go further. It’s quite obvious that Ms. Diaz is resourceful, a go-getter, cares deeply about her students and wouldn't waste a penny.

Take Part in Ms. Diaz's Mission

“I am working on getting enough instruments for each student in my program,” Ms. Diaz explains, “I’ve inquired for funding and donations through several sources. “One of the fundraising avenues is Donors Choose. Please consider donating to her music program (details on the fundraising website) to help her keep making a difference in her students’ lives.

Link to Donors Choose Fundraising website:

Ms. Laura-Ruby Diaz is a Los Angeles native and stand-up bass player who attended L.A.’s public schools from grades K-12. She graduated with a BA in Music Education from Humboldt State University. While completing her undergrad, she ran a volunteer organization through her university called the North Coast Music Mentors that gave free music lessons to students that could not afford to pay for them. This included, schools without or very limited music programs, children who lived in transitional homes, like foster care and homeless shelters/temporary housing. 


1. Mixon K. Building Your Instrumental Music Program in an Urban School. Music Educators Journal. 2005;91(3):15-23. doi:10.2307/3400071

2. Marsha Kindall-Smith. Teachers Teaching Teachers: Revitalization in an Urban Setting. Music educators journal. 2004;91(2):41-46. doi:10.2307/3400048

3. Kinney DW. Selected Nonmusic Predictors of Urban Students’ Decisions to Enroll and Persist in Middle School Band Programs. Journal of Research in Music Education. 2010;57(4):334-350. doi:10.1177/0022429409350086

4. Denny E. To what extent does participation in extracurricular music affect the future aspirations of 11–12-year-olds? A small-scale investigation. British journal of music education. 2007;24(1):99-115. doi:10.1017/S0265051706007248

5. Mixon K. Engaging and Educating Students with Culturally Responsive Performing Ensembles. Music Educators Journal. 2009;95(4):66-73. doi:10.1177/0027432109335479