Torrey Pines students bring arts to inner city

Michelle Zhang, a junior at Torrey Pines High School, is determined to bring art, music and dance to students in San Diego who don’t have the opportunity to explore their creativity.

Michelle founded a group called Students for the Arts, or StARTS, and recruited 27 of her most talented and artistic schoolmates to volunteer once a week at Logan Elementary in the Logan Heights downtown neighborhood.

“There are so many musical students at Torrey Pines,” Michelle said. “A lot of kids want to put to use what they’ve learned and make something of it.”

Michelle, a pianist and flutist, got the idea for the program when she started giving music lessons to make a little extra money. After hearing about how many San Diego schools do not have any arts programs, she realized she could offer those same lessons for free.

Michelle, along with her StARTS vice president Galit Benoni, knows the importance of music in school. Michelle and Galit picked up their instruments in band classes at Carmel Valley Middle School.

Since the end of September, Michelle’s 27 volunteers have been teaching the Logan second- to sixth-graders piano, guitar, violin, voice, dance and art.

“The kids are great,” Michelle said. “Once you put an instrument in their hands they are really eager to learn.”

She said the children’s giddiness and excitement quickly spreads to the volunteers. Michelle said many of the children do not own their own instruments but that doesn’t keep them from practicing at home — students have told Michelle they play piano with just their fingers at home.

StARTS volunteers hope to hold an art showcase for the elementary students in May or June.

“I hope this stays at Torrey Pines forever,” said Michelle of her program, which she aims to expand to three schools by the end of the school year.

In order to keep the program, Michelle is looking for donations of instruments for the children to practice on, and art supplies as well as monetary funds to help pay for the students’ travel. Anyone interested in helping StARTS can e-mail tpstudents4thearts@