Stanford Thompson

Founder and Executive Director, Play On Philly


Orchestras of Change: Building Transferable Executive Functioning Skills

Over one-fifth of children in Philadelphia live in poverty, and the lived experience of poverty is about more than limited access to material resources. In today’s Philadelphia, resilience must come from the child’s internal resources and those of their family. The most powerful engine of resilience, opportunity, and equality – public education – is in serious jeopardy. The result is the sad irony that the children who would benefit most from access to high-quality educational opportunities are also those least likely to receive them. Into this breach stepped Play On Philly, guided by the essential theory of change this evaluation assesses: that access to high-quality music education can mitigate the effects of risk on academic achievement and prosocial behavior by fostering participants’ executive functions. Nearly every program that works with children at risk claims ancillary benefits; few can substantiate these claims, and fewer still can articulate how their program achieves these effects. This is where Play On Philly’s theory of change and results make our program a powerful force for change for Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children and youth.


Stanford Thompson is a musician and educator who serves as the Founder and Executive Director of Play On Philly, bringing music education to students in underserved areas throughout Philadelphia. Recently recognized as a TED Fellow, Stanford believes that music education is a powerful tool for social change. As a professional trumpeter, Stanford has performed as soloist and section member with major international orchestras and continues to perform chamber music and jazz. Stanford is a native of Atlanta, GA and hold degrees from The Curtis Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory’s Sistema Fellows Program.