Surprise and excitement were the first words that came to mind for band directors Cindy Whelander and Samantha Quart after the pair learned Mayor Alice Patino had nominated their students to perform in Washington, D.C,. and that they had been selected.

"It's new for me," Whelander, the band director at Pioneer Valley High School, said of the invitation to perform in the National Memorial Day Parade. "When we received the initial nomination, we thought it was incredible. Students around here have not done things like this before -- it's a real amazing opportunity."

Quart, now entering her second year as band director for Santa Maria High School, echoed much of Whelander's excitement after being nominated and chosen to perform during the National Independence Day Parade. "I told my class the morning we were rehearsing for graduation, [but] that's all they've heard so far," she said.

Cutler Boughn, assistant marketing director with Music Celebrations International, the Arizona-based company helping coordinate performances for the Memorial Day and Independence Day parades, said nominations are solicited from elected officials throughout the country, allowing Music Celebrations to vet band programs before inviting them. While nominating multiple programs from the same area is common, Boughn said that in the case of Pioneer Valley and Santa Maria High, it is less common for programs in the same city to accept the invitation.

Neither Music Celebrations International nor parade organizers provide financial support for bands hoping to perform in Washington. Four months after receiving the news, Whelander and Quart still talk about it with excitement and enthusiasm while grappling with the daunting question before them -- how are they going to pay for this?

Whelander said the Pioneer Valley band program must raise $170,000 in order to take their hundred or so students. At Santa Maria High, Quart must raise roughly half of that -- $90,000 -- to take 50 students. All together, approximately 150 students must raise more than a quarter-million dollars in an area with a higher-than-average county- and nationwide poverty rate.

"I don't even know if we can accomplish it," Whelander said, "especially with another group trying to do the same thing. That's a lot of money to come up with between the two of us."

This past summer, Whelander and her class held a rummage sale to start working toward their goal. Now that the school year has begun, she said Pioneer Valley students will start working to secure sponsorships. Quart said students in the Santa Maria High program will also try and secure sponsorships, and that proceeds from food sales and concert performances will support the band fund. Both schools are looking to host additional fundraisers to further lower the cost passed to students.

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Senior Lesley Aguilar, drum major for the Santa Maria High band, was taken aback by the nomination. To her, the nomination validates the group's growth and improvement over their first year.

"The band has worked very hard the past few years," she said. "It's incredible to be nominated for something like this."

Like many in the class, Aguilar has not had the opportunity to travel across the United States. Although she has previously taken trips to Mexico with family, the opportunity to travel outside of California and visit another location in the U.S. has her excited.

"There's a lot of history in Washington D.C., I really can't wait to explore."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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