Accompanying the noises of summer construction projects at Oak Ridge High was a cacophony of booms, hoots, pings, blares, and rat-a-tat-tats.  About fifty elementary and middle school-aged children were welcomed to the high school in El Dorado Hills for a “musical petting zoo” where instead of chasing goats and lambs, kids could get to know trombones, marimbas, and many more instruments. 

The goal was to inspire young students to participate in music education and hopefully develop a life-long love for creating music of their own.  Naomi Lojo, a rising senior at Oak Ridge High, organized the event with the help of her mentors, Nathan Tilley, the band director at ORHS, and Mila Olson, a music teacher in the Rescue Union School District.  

Band enrollments have not fully recovered since the shrinkage caused by the pandemic.  As schools turned to hybrid instruction and social distancing was instated in 2020, many kids quit or missed opportunities to join band. At Oak Ridge High School, the band enrollment dropped from about 120 to less than 90. One study by Travis Weller found that music programs in rural and urban elementary schools suffered a 50% enrollment decline while it was 33% for suburban schools.

Title 1 schools (i.e., those that receive federal funding to support students from low-income families) experienced a 44% decline compared to 29% for non-Title 1 schools. So, band enrollment suffered across the board due to the pandemic but Title 1, rural, and urban schools were the most affected. This is a problem because music education has many benefits for kids.  It improves cognitive and fine motor skills, promotes creativity and self-expression, enhances academic performance, fosters teamwork and cooperation, and supports mental health and well-being.

The petting zoo at Oak Ridge High provided an opportunity for local kids to handle and play a variety of band instruments with guidance from high school band members.  Participants rotated through stations featuring brass (trumpets, tubas, and trombones), woodwinds (clarinets, saxophones, and flutes), percussion (marimbas, bells, chimes, gong, guitar, quint and snare drums), and music-oriented activities.  Members of the ORHS band donated their time and skills and the El Dorado Hills Music Store donated most of the reeds for the woodwind instruments.  Another goal of the Oak Ridge Musical Petting Zoo was to publicize resources for budding musicians such as live music events, performance groups, and local sources for instruments and lessons.

The Musical Petting Zoo was the capstone event of a larger project named Play It Forward that Naomi Lojo is doing to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.  Naomi is a dedicated scout and has completed every level in the program from kindergarten Daisy up through high school Ambassador.  For her final service project as a Girl Scout, Naomi decided to share her passion for music by encouraging younger kids to pursue music education. Her project is three-pronged: Donate, Distribute, and Demonstrate.  

Donate: Naomi has partnered with Hungry for Music, an international non-profit that refurbishes used musical instruments and redistributes them to disadvantaged children at Title 1 schools.  By posting flyers and hosting a booth at the EDH Farmer’s Market, so far she has collected almost forty instruments donated by members of the local community. These include clarinets, keyboards, guitars, ukuleles, a trombone, and a viola. All of the donations go to the Hungry for Music organization.  If you would like to donate an instrument, please contact Naomi at 916-769-6548 to arrange for pickup.

Demonstrate: Naomi has visited eleven classrooms and assemblies at four local elementary schools to demonstrate her skills on clarinet, saxophone, piano, and flute.  She is sharing her love of music with younger students to encourage them to embrace the opportunities for music education available through our public schools. 

Working with Mrs. Young at Sierra Elementary and Louisiana Schnell Elementary, Naomi has played interactive games, like “Name that Tune,” with classes to show how fun music can be. The Musical Petting Zoo was the culmination of this part of the project, showcasing a broader range of instruments, more high school musicians, and a final demonstration of the Oak Ridge fight song to the participants. 

Distribute: At her various mini-concerts, Naomi describes her own musical journey, the excitement of music competitions, and the camaraderie developed in marching band, among other benefits she has personally experienced.  She also distributes information on local resources and opportunities for aspiring young musicians.  Naomi wants to get the word out to families that musical instruments are available to students in need.  She feels no student should miss out on the advantages of music for lack of an instrument, and believes being given an instrument of their own will serve as additional motivation for kids to participate.  

Naomi hopes the Musical Petting Zoo will become an annual event at Oak Ridge High School.  She also plans to help other schools in the community host petting zoos of their own.  Feel free to contact her if you are interested.