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In Colorado, a pilot program called “Rap to Roots” has debuted this month, according to Colleen O’Connor in the Denver Post. It has been successful in cities like Chicago and Cleveland.
These after-school series are sponsored by Swallow Hill Music Association and (in Colorado) also by Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives. It teaches kids to use rap’s rhythms, rhymes and even its history to boost their academics.
Math is not 13-year-old Koran Ray’s best subject, but he has figured out a trick to help him master the multiplication tables: he raps them. He also says “I can rap about social studies, language, even Shakespeare.”
He then launches into a quick one that he learned from a video about Shakespeare being a mellow fellow who wrote “Othello.”
Koran has learned from a music producer how to change a rapper’s voice. It makes him think of his science lessons involving variables: “when you change the variables of things like speed, voice and tone.”
Rap to Roots is the brainchild of Michael Schenkelberg, Swallow Hill’s music school director. He created it because public schools, especially those in inner city locations, were losing their arts programs.
He was working in Chicago and Cleveland at the time, so he started there. When organizers tracked students’ progress over four years, they discovered those in the program “did significantly better in standardized testing, attention spans in the classroom, and some improved their writing skills,” says Schenkelberg.
He moved to Denver, and wanted to duplicate the program. Reverend Leon Kelly, director of Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives, loved the idea. He agreed to a pilot program at a school where he runs an after-school program.
Twelve-year-old Khalia Davenport would love to keep going next year. She likes how teachers in the program — all local musicians — “tell us we should stay in school because school is like a big rap, if you put it all together, like math and accounting and stuff.”
Recently, as many kids were scribbling away at lyrics, a small group of student sat at a laptop learningto produce their first CD.
A local artist, Azma Holiday, worked with the students on expressing their feeling through music. “They were on fire,” he said. “I got a kick out of that. I got to see their juices flowing and hear what they had to say and what was going on upstairs.”
Jontrail Taylor’s rhymes include a statement about school. “I got to go to college to get my education/ So I can be in a situation/ That’s better than the federation.”
Teachers in Chicago and Cleveland helped design the rap classes to meet their curriculum needs. So, for example, they covered migrations of African-Americans from the south and learned that rap’s roots go back about 3,000 years — to Afro-Cuban and West African rhythms — which connected to geography lessons.
They increased their technological know-how by using laptops to record their own CDs.
They also work on English skills. Says Schenkelberg,
They learn about similes, different poetic devices, and then they take a familiar rap song and see how it uses these literary devices. They learn about different poets through time and learn to rap a Shakespearean piece.
The goal, he says, is to spark kids’ interest in their own education through a passion rooted in their generation.
So many kids are just trying to make it, to be heard. If that’s a dream that will continue to motivate kids to learn, then what you need to do is at least give them a chance.
sole source: Colleen O’Connor’s article in the Denver Post on 5/11/09. www.denverpost.com
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