NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation is looking for beginning music students — and offering 70 free instruments.

The HSM Beginners program is open to kids aged 8 to 15 who’ve had less than a year of musical instruction, program director Scott Aiges said.

“At a time when arts education in the school system is suffering, we’re trying to do everything we can to supplement that, make sure that music instruction is something kids have an opportunity to receive,” he said Thursday.

Students have come from as far as Gonzales, 60 miles from New Orleans, and Plaquemine, about 90 miles away, for the two-hour weekly evening classes, Aiges said.

Available instruments are clarinet, flute, alto saxophone, trumpet, trombone, keyboard, guitar, electric bass and drum practice pads.

“We want to find kids who want to play so we can get these instruments in their hands rather than collecting dust in the closet,” Aiges said.

Children who attend the first six classes can take instruments home to practice. Completing the school year with excellent attendance earns them the instrument for good.

Every student given an instrument for last year’s class met those requirements and kept the instrument, Aiges said.

Students with their own instruments also are welcome.

Applications are online .

Last year’s inaugural class had 80 students, and about 20 of them graduated into the Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music, which has offered free jazz classes since 1990, Aiges said. Students in that program must be at least 10 years old, have their own instrument and have completed at least a year of lessons in playing it.

HSM Beginners was created after the Jazz and Heritage Center on Rampart Street opened last year.

“It was clear to us that we needed to do more to reach more students in the community,” Aiges said.

He said grants from the Country Music Association Foundation paid for the instruments bought each year.

The first class immediately doubled the number of students each week, Aiges said. “That showed a lot of potential growth.”

The school holds auditions for the Heritage School of Music, but that wouldn’t make sense for the beginners’ program.

Instead, Aiges said, “We do interviews with the children and their parents to determine their level of interest.”