Eight-year-old Alvaro Romero was sure he couldn't learn to play the jarana-- a small string instrument similar to a guitar.
But his teacher, Vicente Barron, believed otherwise.
"Yes, you can," Barron said. "You just have to try."
Barron then moved Alvaro's small fingers across the instrument's frets, reminding the boy to press his fingers tightly against the strings.
Within minutes, Alvaro produced an A major chord. His tightly pressed lips broke into a smile as he repeated the sound fiercely.
Alvaro, a third-grade student at Oxnard's Cesar Chavez School, is one of 20 children who are learning to play the guitar, jarana , tambourine, mandolin or maraca in an after-school class taught by Barron.
Barron, a music aficionado and a fifth-grade teacher at Cesar Chavez, said he decided to volunteer his time to teach the children because of their enthusiasm and willingness to learn.
"They want to learn so badly that I find it unfair not to give them that opportunity," said Barron, 47. "Their eyes light up when they learn something, and that thrills me."
Barron said he hopes that by February the group will be able to perform at school events.
"I want them to feel proud of themselves. To feel that they are doing something good," Barron said.
Barron, who has played guitar since he was 12, said the children have a natural curiosity about music, but the district can no longer afford to provide music classes.
So the Oxnard native invited students from third to fifth grade to audition for the prospective band. Then he asked the school to provide the instruments.
Principal Anthony Zubia, also a musician who occasionally pops into the class to help Barron, decided to use $1,000 from school funds to buy the instruments.
"We could not pass up the opportunity," Zubia said. "Mr. Barron is not only committed to the children, but he also has the knowledge to share with them. He has enriched our school with the music program."
Every Tuesday from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m., whether school is in session or not, Barron and the students gather at his classroom. They shove chairs and desks to the sides, pull the instruments from their boxes and practice.
As they create musical notes, many of the youngsters dream of a brighter future.
"I want to be a star when I grow up," fifth-grader Jeniffer Arana said. "I sing at the church choir, and one day I'll be a famous singer."
But others just want to play for the fun of it.
"I just like to learn," 10-year-old Liliana Rivera said. "When I am home and have nothing to do, I get the guitar and just play it."
The children are not the only ones pleased with the band.
During Tuesday's practice, the father of one of the students stopped by. Jesus Maldonado was so delighted with the program that he saved $60 from his farm labor to buy his 10-year-old son a used guitar.
"I don't want my son to become a gang member. There are so many bad forces out there influencing children that a program like this can be a life saver," said Maldonado, who had brought the guitar for Barron to tune. "I'm really thankful."