At the end of the program, the USC students walk away with a master's degree and, in many cases, a teaching credential.
"I thought it would be really advantageous to kind of put an agreement together with the Burbank Unified School District in which classes from USC were actually taught on campus at Jordan Middle School," Whitener said.
The student teachers spend time with the entire class, conducting in front of a room full of students. They also have time to give one-on-one support to budding musicians — a kind of special attention the middle and high school students might not otherwise be afforded.
"It's really ending up being a really beneficial program," he said.
Band students all agreed that most of the USC student teachers would be easy to spot even if they weren't identified as such.
A couple of students said the student teachers seemed hesitant, meek, or on edge. And USC music teaching student Mark Santos said he couldn't blame them.
Starting today, Santos will have his first full day in the hot seat, conducting a class full of students at Jordan from the first morning bell until the day's dismissal.
"I must admit, the first couple times I was in front of them I definitely was nervous," Santos said. "I mean, it's nerve-wracking, because you don't know who the kids are and how they will react to you. I'll have an edge because I know the kids, so that part of the nerves won't be there, hopefully."
For the past eight weeks, Santos has been observing Whitener's classes, sometimes taking the lead teaching.
He will continue teaching the classes for full school days, Wednesday through Friday, through the end of the school year.
Daniel Safford, another student in the master's program at USC, spent almost six weeks observing and teaching classes at Jordan.
He hasn't completed the program yet and is finishing his student teaching in Los Angeles. He cited his first experiences teaching classes at Jordan as a key revelation in his career.
"Any time you spend in front of a class is always educational for you as a teacher and hopefully for the students as well," Safford said. "Until you're really in front of them doing it, it doesn't really click. So I think a combination of experience and education is required."
There are about 15 students in the Master of Arts in Teaching Music Program at USC, Whitener said. Besides Burbank, they are logging hours at schools in other Los Angeles County districts.