Students playing instruments in a group


Developing critical life skills through music education

Jan 18, 2023
Music is a powerful vehicle for child development. When a child learns how to play an instrument in a group setting it can be life-changing. Sistema programs provide children and youth from under-served neighborhoods with these meaningful experiences in friendly and supportive environments.
Sistema after-school programs use music education as a way to help students gain confidence and develop new skills. By learning how to play an instrument through an ensemble using a range of musical genres with a culturally responsive curriculum, students who participate in Sistema programs see improvements in many areas of their lives. TELUS Friendly Future Foundation has had the privilege of funding Sistema programs in communities across Canada since our inception in 2018. 

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s YONA-Sistema

YONA (Youth Orchestra of Northern Alberta)-Sistema is a free, Edmonton-based, after-school program for local children and youth from under-served neighborhoods. Five days a week, for three hours daily, students receive group instrument lessons from qualified teachers, nutritious snacks, help with their homework and they engage in physical activity. Many of the students involved are new to Canada and would not have the chance to receive these kinds of free extracurricular support without YONA-Sistema.
The program begins with students receiving a cardboard instrument when they first join. Students are encouraged to decorate them and care for them as if they were real instruments. It is used to teach body posture, finger placement and technique.
Four cardboard guitars decorated by the students enrolled in the YONA-Sistema after-school program.
One of the most important moments in a YONA student’s journey is when they move from playing a cardboard instrument to the real thing. It’s a day that they eagerly anticipate: the day when they officially start identifying themselves as musicians and start forming their own unique identities. When the group receives the real versions of their cardboard instrument and plays a note together for the first time, it’s a magical experience for everyone involved.
Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the TELUS Edmonton Community Board, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra is expanding the reach of YONA-Sistema by purchasing new instruments and covering instrument maintenance costs for a second cohort that the organization is launching. 

It’s more than just music

The staff often hear YONA students talk about the people involved in the program as one big family. It’s within this supportive environment, and the experience they gain learning how to play an instrument as part of an ensemble, where students form new friendships, see improvements in their communication and interpersonal skills, as well as learn how to problem-solve alongside their peers.
During the year, YONA students showcase what they’ve learned at two performances: the YONA Winter Concert and the
Road to Joy
. For many students, the Winter Concert is the first time that they perform on a stage in front of an audience. At the end of the school year, YONA puts on the Road to Joy concert at the Winspear Centre in celebration of everything the students learned.
YONA students performing on-stage in front of an audience during the Road to Joy year-end concert.
“The final performance [Road to Joy] that the students put on are moments of pride and something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” says Jacquie McNulty, program staff member with YONA-Sistema. “It’s the first time that many of the students and their families have been inside a symphony hall here in Canada.”
Many YONA-Sistema alumni go on to pursue post-secondary education in fields such as performing arts, science and engineering. They also stay affiliated with the program as volunteer mentors and in teaching roles.
Thanks to the support of our donors and Sistema based programs offered by organizations like the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, we’re helping children and youth from under-served neighborhoods develop new skills while forming their own unique identity.