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COMMUNITY NEWS: Southeast

HUNTINGTON PARK : Teacher Is Striking All the Right Notes

July 25, 1993|MARY HELEN BERG

When Edward Trimis took a job as the sole music teacher at Huntington Park High School in 1991, he found all the signs of a music program teetering on the brink of extinction. Broken instruments were strewn on the classroom floor, crumpled band uniforms sat atop the closet, students in the choir and band numbered fewer than 30.

Today, in an era when many school arts programs lack the money and support to survive, Trimis' music program has made a comeback.

"The kids just follow him like a pied piper," said one teacher. And somehow, a little money is following too.

About 340 students are now enrolled in the school's music program. Trimis has started a school orchestra, launched a jazz choir and a jazz band, taken over the drill team and rejuvenated a defunct drama program. Last year, the musical groups presented 50 performances.

Trimis credits the support of the school's administration and other teachers for the program's success. If there is an extra dime in the budget or a chance to apply for a grant, principal Tony Garcia informs Trimis. And about $25,000 has been pieced together through a variety of sources in the past two years, Trimis said.

Still, Trimis must beg friends to borrow instruments, and his groups cannot always afford a bus to out-of-town concerts. Trimis also acknowledges that the role of teacher, mentor, conductor, driver and fund-raiser can lead to burnout. His immediate goal is to stabilize the program so that it will survive and grow--even without him.

So far the program is thriving. The choir class of 75 students is standing room only. Honor roll students and alleged gang members sit side by side trying to harmonize. They giggle to hear themselves sing the theme song from "The Mickey Mouse Club."

"They say, 'Oh, this is fun,' " Trimis said. "Then I got 'em."

The method seems to pay off. Trimis has so many new students that there are not enough choir robes for all, and some band students must share instruments. The program has grown so fast that the school is looking for a second music teacher and has hired two assistants.

"In a way, (a comeback) wasn't that hard because the only place to go was up," said Trimis.

Alva Miller, a career counselor and 21-year employee of the school, said Trimis' enthusiasm and dedication are unusual and contagious.

"The students saw somebody (who) really wanted to do something for them and they jumped right in," Miller said. "He infuses the kids with the belief that they can do it and then steps aside and lets the kids do their thing. He's what a true teacher should be."

Trimis' popularity as a teacher was demonstrated in March, 1991, when he received a layoff notice at Berendo Middle School. Trimis managed to rally enough support to have the layoff rescinded and was transferred to Huntington Park High.

Trimis often teaches under a banner that reads: "If you can believe it, you can achieve it." Other computer-generated signs carrying positive messages hang all over his classroom. Before concerts he has students gather together and chant: "You are the best!"

His students are starting to believe the messages and proudly describe how they packed the auditorium for their final concert last month.

"With the help of Mr. Trimis we've become more of a family," said recent Huntington Park graduate Lori Romero, 18, who has been hired to help Trimis part time. "We've achieved a lot."

Sometimes letting Trimis and his students "do their thing" results in "organized chaos," Garcia said. But the music program promotes a "sense of pride, self-esteem and confidence that affects how they act in the community. The program is good for the community too."

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