Los Angeles Unified and the Fender Play Foundation announced in harmony today an expansion of a music program that provides free instruments and lessons for middle school students.

The music program began last June, providing 5,000 students with guitars, basses and ukuleles from Fender, and it will double in size this coming year. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said youngsters already participating in the program have enjoyed teacher-led lessons and learned a new skill among friends at a time when the pandemic has everyone longing for connection.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, we knew children would need, more than ever, a way to connect with one another,” Beutner said. “We reached out to Fender, and they answered the call to serve.”

As a demonstration of the effectiveness of the program, about 250 Los Angeles Unified students recorded a performance with Grammy- and Oscar-winning artist H.E.R. that will air Saturday as part of the Global Citizen event called VAX Live: The Concert to Reunite the World, which was taped Sunday night at SoFi Stadium.

“You heard that right — Los Angeles Unified students will perform on a global stage alongside some of the world’s brightest stars and world leaders,” Beutner said. “For me, it’s Christmas come early and a dream come true. I’m a music kid — as a shy fifth-grader in my third different elementary school, it was a teacher handing me a cello which changed my world. I found friends and I found my voice.”

Music teacher Eloy Adame said Los Angeles Unified’s partnership with Fender has provided new opportunities for him to share his talent and love of music with students.

“The one thing that really stands out for me has been the scope of the program,” he said. “I am teaching students from the north, south, east and west corners of Los Angeles and there is no way I could have reached all those students before.”

Juliet Ponce, a sixth-grader at South Gate Middle School Science/Technology/Math Magnet, said the Fender program gave her a creative outlet while schools were closed.

“When I needed to take a break, I could practice songs on my bass and find new ones,” she said. “It really was amazing.” Brenda Ponce, Juliet’s mother, said the program has taught the 11-year-old more than just music.

“She has learned to focus and be responsible and how to meet other students,” the mom said. “It’s wonderful that she has this opportunity.’ Fender Chief Marketing Officer Evan Jones said the company has been inspired by its partnership with LAUSD and the impact its having on students and their families.

“Middle school is such an important time for young students to get exposure to music instruction,” he said. “We are committed to growing this program, extending it to even more Los Angeles Unified students in the coming years.”