The sound of string instruments streams through the halls of Elyria High School. This may not be unusual in other school districts, but in this high-performing urban school district these instruments are valued — but costly — prizes. However, a 10-plus-year relationship between the Elyria City School District and Nordson Foundation has ensured these students get the chance to make music.
At a time when many school districts are focusing on high test scores and core competency classes, Elyria is choosing to look at a bigger picture, highlighting what Superintendent Paul Rigda, who retired this year, refers to as the abilities of “the whole child.” Rigda says that a student’s emotional and social growth is not something to be learned by technical courses but rather through interactions with one another and with teachers on a one-to-one level or through musical performances, athletics and clubs.
Elyria receives government funding, but the money Nordson provides lets the district go above and beyond supplying instruments to kids who can’t afford them
In fact, in more affluent school districts, students rent or purchase instruments and pay for lessons outside the system. In Elyria, many parents can’t afford the lessons or the costs for purchasing instruments that grow in size with their children.
This is where the Nordson Corporation Foundation has helped. Nordson has been donating $5,000 a year for more than 10 years, covering the costs of instruments. Nordson Corporation Foundation Executive Director Cecilia H. Render says, “Nordson is proud to support local school districts through our School Funds. These funds allow the districts to support projects or programs that they may have had to cut due to budget restrictions. That the Elyria schools were able to put a violin in the hands of every student that wanted one is a gratifying result of our ongoing partnership.”
Throughout the course of the program, less than a handful of instruments have been lost. In fact, Rigda refers to them as “sacred.” The parents establish rules. Brothers and sisters don’t taunt their siblings with threats of breakage. And the students practice — a lot.
Approximately 400 students from sixth grade through high school take an instrument, and high school students participate in either the marching band or orchestra. Music has become an elective, offered for 45 minutes a day, five days a week. 
The Elyria City School District has made additional investments, too. In 2010, a $5.3 million auditorium was built as part of Elyria High School’s reconstruction. “The place looks like the Palace Theater. The acoustics are state-of-the-art,” Rigda says. 
The district obtained a Steinway baby grand piano in dire need of repair. Again, Nordson stepped up to the plate paying for half of the reconditioning while the district paid the other half. A climate-controlled room was constructed to house the piano, which is now valued at $150,000 to $175,000.
“My philosophy has always been to develop a child so he or she is ready for life,” says Rigda. “Expose the child to as many activities as we can. Encourage them to learn who they are, what they’re good at, as opposed to eliminating options. Provide them with opportunities. Nordson, as a resource, has allowed us to do the right thing.”