Music teacher Laura Tovar has been part of the Music Bus program for more than 20 years. (Photo by Gina Ward, Courtesy of Rowland Unified)

Richard Schermer has driven a school bus for more than 30 years. Which is a little strange considering he's a music teacher.

Usually, big yellow school buses take students to their classrooms. In Rowland Unified, big blue buses bring music classrooms to them.

In fact, Rowland has two music buses that tour the sprawling district, spreading the joy of music. The traveling minstrels are celebrating their 30th anniversary, having taught nearly 25,000 students.

The bright, blue buses can be found outside the local elementary schools every day. Inside, music teachers Laura Tovar and Schermer offer one of the few elementary instrumental music programs in the state.

"I love it. I was born to teach," said

Music teacher Richard Schermer behind the wheel. (pPhoto by Gina Ward, Courtesy of Rowland Unified)
the 64-year-old instructor.

Schermer has been with the Mobile Music Program since it began in 1980. At the time, Rowland was growing so rapidly there was little space left for music classes.

"The superintendent decided to furnish a school bus as a music room and hired me to teach," Schermer recalled.

The music buses have been on the road ever since. At one point, the program taught more than 1,000 students in three buses.

"A local music store sponsored a contest to name the buses. They picked Note Boat, Music Machine and Tune Trolley," he explained.

Three decades later, Schermer is driving his third Note Boat. The latest vehicles were purchased with a grant from the Arco Corp.

"A school

district in New York was selling its old school buses, so we sent district mechanics to select the best ones and drive them to Southern California," he said. "The two buses were refurbished as mobile music rooms."

The buses visit 15 schools twice a week to offer musical instruction. Students also learn to play string instruments in fourth grade and jazz music in fifth.

Schermer's partner for the past 20 years has been Laura Tovar. She's as enthusiastic about teaching as he is.

"My mother kids me by saying that I didn't need a master's degree from USC to drive a school bus. But this has been the best job I've ever had," Tovar said.

When asked if it was difficult to drive a big, blue bus through Rowland Heights, Tovar pointed out she's never had an accident.

Schermer hasn't been quite as fortunate.

"I used to park the bus in a big field at Yorbita Elementary," he remembered. "One day as I was pulling out, I saw then Principal Bob Wertz waving at me while other teachers were laughing and yelling."

"I thought they were really glad to see me until Bob signaled me to stop. When I got out of the bus, I saw that my rear bumper had snagged the fence and I was dragging 300 feet

Music teacher Richard Schermer has been part of the Music Bus program since it began more than 30 years ago. (Photo by Gina Ward, Courtesy of Rowland Unified)
of chain link behind me," a chagrined Schermer said.

Now the unique Mobile Music Program needs funds to continue its after-school programs. Drastic drops in revenue have caused huge state deficits that have resulted in education cutbacks.

Rowland Unified continues to support the Music Buses by paying the teachers' salaries, as well as some of the costs for the bands and strings programs.

But the music department wants to raise more money for the after-school programs, as well as the repair and upkeep of the buses and musical instruments.

"Last night, I heard something dragging underneath my bus," Tovar said. "When I checked, I saw that the muffler was falling off the bus."

And Schermer said his bus needs new tires. While the school district pays for most repairs, there's only so much money budgeted.

That's why the music teachers are asking families to consider donating $30 for the 30th anniversary. For $30, the district can recork or replace a pad on a clarinet, flute or saxophone.

Prosperous residents might consider donating more. A new musical arrangement for the band or strings costs from $65 to $100.

Any donations will help Rowland's young musicians.

Rowland Unified is already well-known for its musical groups. Both Nogales and Rowland High bands have won many awards at the state and regional levels.

The Noble Regiment was the only band from the West Coast invited to march in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade last year.

The District Elementary Jazz Band was invited to perform for the California State Band Conference. And the District Honor String Orchestra has earned superior ratings at regional music festivals.

Rowland will hold a "Keep the Music Rollin' at Rowland" fundraiser from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 22, at Rowland High School.

Families are invited to come enjoy some great music, food and bus tours. Students will perform throughout the day. The kids are seeking pledges of a dollar for every minute they play.

A special ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. to honor everyone who has made the program such a success over the past three decades.

For more information, or donate to the Rowland Music Program, call 626-854-8348.

richard.irwin@sgvn.com

626-965-8811, ext. 2801