Saturday, February 13, 2010

Week 14: Kids are Kids

The most difficult part of being in the Abreu fellowship has been the lack of contact with kids.  I really miss the students at Glacier Valley Elementary School and have been searching for opportunities to work with children while in Boston. A good friend of mine, Irene Smalls is a children's book author and volunteers at a local Boston school in Rochester:  Nathan Hale Elementary School.  Irene created a program called Literacise, which integrates children's literature with physical movement, and she shares her lessons with classes at Nathan Hale.

Irene arranged for me to visit the school so that I could work with some of the classes.  As soon as I entered the school grounds, I knew Nathan Hale was a very special place.  Volunteers greeted me at the door, positive messages adorned brightly painted walls and children's artwork hung proudly throughout the school.  The principal, Sandy Mitchell-Woods, is the driving force behind this incredible school.  She works alongside the community and parents to bring a variety of experiences to the students and was awarded Massachusetts Principal of the Year for her efforts.

I decided to bring one of the Remo drums along with me on the subway and bus to share with the kids.  My first thought entering one of the kindergarten classes was:  would this school population of predominantly African-American and Latino students respond differently to the way I teach than those of Glacier Valley consisting of mostly Alaskan Native, Asian-Pacific and Caucasian students?  After visiting three different classes that morning, I came away reaffirmed that "Kids are Kids"  and that lessons filled with challenge, joy, teamwork, humor, goal-setting and a sense of accomplishment appeal to both child and adult learners.

After we mastered the first skill, I'd announce, "Congratulations, you have reached Level I in drumming."  The question from the class that immediately followed was, "What's Level II?"  and with the answer came an eagerness from the class to achieve it.  From sitting up properly, holding a steady beat to tapping out a complex rhythm while singing an African song, the class was determined to reach higher levels of skill mastery.  By the end of the lesson, they had reached Level XII and you should have seen the pride in their faces.   We ended the session giving everyone a chance to improvise.  Here's a picture of one of the students - his face tells it all.

Thank you, Sandy Mitchell-Wood, Irene Smalls and the entire Nathan Hale Elementary School community for welcoming me into your school.  Also, thank you Will Schmid and Remo Belli for your gift of drums, which continues to reach others beyond the NEC community.


  1. Is it possible that one of the greatest gifts that we will receive from El Sistema for the education of our children is movement? Its no wonder that this years TED winner was a chef who was hysterical about nutrition. For many of our urban families this health problem also includes lack of physical movement.
    My suburban families spend so much time commuting and and sitting in front of technology that their preschoolers are not getting the upper body skills that they need. This has many implications for how we will need to organize curriculum for grade school children.

    I thought possibly the urban children I would be working with would have better large motor skills, because they were using their feet more to go places. Wrong. A recent story on Bill Moyers Journal is about the urban community in Santa Ana were I teach another Suzuki program. A woman doctor who grew up in Venezuela discovered that the children in her community had no access to playgrounds, while trying to find remedies for the explosion of diabetes. The neighborhoods are fenced in by gated apartments complexes, and vacant lots rimmed by cyclone fences topped off with barbed wire and security systems. School playgrounds are locked up to prevent vandalism. There are signs everywhere that say children can not play here. Last month Carlos told me that they had yet one more child struck by a car while playing in the street.
    I recently had an interesting chat with one of my sister's in-laws who is a health care social worker located in a favela in Brazil, much like the ones you will see in Venezuela. She explained to me that conditions for the poor are very similar.
    The children in each one of these communities are depending on us to make music an opportunity for whole body movement activities that they can take with them to their families and neighborhoods.
    This is a huge issue for all of our children. More later. Can't wait to hear what you observe.

  2. Yeah, kids and kids aren't they. Isn't that the best part about what we do? :)