BPO, Buffalo Public Schools win Yale School of Music award for West Side Connection program

For Immediate Release
Contact:Kate Jenkins
Communications Coordinator
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

May 21, 2015

BUFFALO, NY – West Side Connection, a six-year-old partnership between the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Buffalo Public Schools located in the orchestra’s West Side neighborhood, has earned a Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award.

The award will be given at the Yale School of Music Symposium on Music in Schools in New Haven on June 4-7. This year’s symposium focuses on partnerships between schools and professional music organizations. The West Side Connection program is one of 38 endeavors throughout the country that are being recognized.


Honorees are invited to attend the symposium to receive their awards and attend three days of strategic sessions presented by Yale School of Music faculty and guest speakers. BPO Education  

Director Robin Parkinson and BPS music teacher James Schwanz will attend the symposium together. Parkinson and Schwanz are the two driving forces behind West Side Connection.


Schwanz is a music teacher for Buffalo Public Schools at the Math, Science, Technology Preparatory School. He has been an integral member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Education Committee, assisting with developing curriculum materials connecting diverse music cultures and education programs for students throughout Western New York. He leads professional development opportunities for the Buffalo Public School’s music department and regularly serves his school as an acting administrator.


Parkinson has been on the BPO staff since 2009, in which time she has expanded the number of children served by the education program and reached new audiences. The West Side Connection program is one of a number of new programs that she has developed. She is a staunch advocate for arts education, giving the keynote speech for the 2011 New York State PTA Convention in Niagara Falls and serving on the leadership team for Buffalo’s new Arts Partners for Learning initiative.


The West Side Connection program was developed in response to the increasing numbers of people moving to Buffalo’s West Side through the UN Refugee Resettlement Program, and a desire to make an authentic connection with this international community through music. It involves students at 12 schools in the Kleinhans Music Hall neighborhood, including a Native American magnet school, three bilingual Spanish schools, and three international schools. The program features guest artist visits, educational activities, and a culminating concert. The BPO works with local and national guest artists that have included a breakdancer, a choir of Burmese Karen, the African-American Cultural Center’s dancers and drummers, and the young winners of the national Sphinx Competition, which fosters excellence among black and Hispanic string players.


“The BPO’s West Side Connection is a very important part of the BPO’s educational mission and I’m so pleased it is getting such distinguished recognition for its impact and longstanding partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools.  I’m also looking forward to the Symposium in June where I will be able to meet and work with my colleagues from across the county who are all doing important work in their communities,” Parkinson said.


“My support of the West Side Connection dates back to my days as a BPO board member and chair of the BPO Education Committee,” said Don Oglivie, interim superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools. “Interactive musical engagement programs like the West Side Connection enable our schools to celebrate diversity and address relevant social issues while affording students the opportunity to experience a live orchestra, often for the first time. This initiative serves as an invaluable and irreplaceable supplement to our students’ education while complying with state educational standards and benchmarks.”