After-School Music Program Supports Kids in Toronto’s Underserved Communities


Photo © Courtesy of Sistema Toronto

Support social change through music education and after-school music programs

Sistema Toronto is a free after-school music and social development program for children and youth living in underserved communities across Toronto with the goal of transformative social change. When the school day is done, over 300 students from the Toronto neighbourhoods of Parkdale, Jane/Finch, Lambton Park, and East Scarborough come to play in string orchestras, sing in choirs, and beat drums in ensembles. Underscoring their music are essential life skills like problem-solving, leadership, and self-confidence.

Students in Sistema’s core program learn together for 10 hours each week. The day begins with a nutritious snack to ensure all students are ready to learn before moving on to their classes. When children are first accepted into the program, they participate in a beginner’s Music & Movement class, where they learn the fundamentals of music. In year two, students are introduced to a string instrument (violin, viola, cello, or double bass), as well as choir, percussion, composition, and theory. Each student receives an instrument, nutritious snacks, and performance opportunities each year, all at no cost to families. Once a child is accepted into the program, they have the option to remain each year until they graduate from Grade 8.

Upon graduation, many students choose to return and participate in Sistema Toronto’s Honours Orchestra and Youth Mentorship Program, where they learn advanced repertoire, pedagogical skills, mentorship, and volunteer opportunities with the younger students.

For Sistema graduate Desiree, joining the Youth Mentorship Program means giving other kids opportunities to learn more than just music. “I want to inspire people, especially young kids, to get into music because it can help you really—it’s something you can always have to learn and always something you can come back to. It wasn’t just about the instruments in Sistema: it was about compassion, leadership,
how to take responsibility for yourself, and how to really treat the people around you and be a better person.”

Sistema Toronto’s unique curricula prioritize social learning, building well-rounded musicians, strong collaborators, and confident leaders. The repertoire in all program areas reinforces learning outcomes but also aims to represent the diversity of the communities in which Sistema Toronto programs are offered.

Graduates are often accepted into competitive and prestigious high school programs in the arts and sciences. Sistema Toronto’s program builds stronger communities by enabling children and youth from underserved communities who would otherwise not have access to this type of programming to learn, grow, and thrive as future leaders.

Our annual cost is $4,000 per student each year but is offered at no cost to families. Every year, more students apply than the program can accept, with waiting lists at each centre.

This is why, at Sistema Toronto, donor support is critical. Your investment allows Sistema students to play real instruments, receive instruction from professional musicians, eat a healthy snack every day, and benefit from a community of support. To learn more and support music education for social change, visit

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Sistema Toronto provides musical and intellectual opportunities to children in vulnerable communities, with the goal of transformative social change. We build stronger communities by enabling children from marginalized neighbourhoods to overcome poverty, grow, and thrive as engaged citizens and future leaders.


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