News / USA

Music Inspires Embattled DC Students

Music Inspires Embattled DC Studentsi
X
June 13, 2013 8:18 PM
U.S. inner-city schools are plagued by high drop-out rates, crime-infested neighborhoods and underfunded programs. Kid Pan Alley, a creative non-profit that conducts songwriting workshops nationwide, recently visited a school in a tough, Washington D.C. district. VOA's Mark Snowiss shows how the work boosts kids' creativity and self-confidence.

Music Inspires Embattled DC Students

Inner-city schools in the United States are in crisis, plagued by high drop-out rates, crime-infested neighborhoods and underfunded programs.

Kid Pan Alley, a small, creative non-profit that conducts songwriting workshops for students nationwide, recently visited a school in Washington's tough Anacostia neighborhood.

Songwriter and recording artist Paul Reisler founded the organization in 1999, working with more than 35,000 students and producing over 2,200 songs since then.

An influential musician who has performed widely since the 1970s, Reisler founded and led the influential folk band Trapezoid and continues to perform with his new group Paul Reisler & A Thousand Questions.

He said music's transformative power can teach children skills they would not otherwise receive in an American educational system that relies increasingly on standardized tests to measure success.

"We're living in a creative economy now," Reisler said. "We're living in an economy that needs people who can imagine things and make things in their minds. Creativity is the most powerful thing that ever was.... What we're really doing is trying to inspire [kids] to be creative."

Inner-city realities

At Orr Elementary School in Washington's Anacostia neighborhood, 95 percent of the students come from low-income families, well above the 70 percent citywide average.

"We have kids that are homeless, we have kids that are going through various challenges, living in shelters and so forth," said Orr Dean of Students Marlon Ray. "But these kids still want to strive for greatness."

"Our 4th and 5th grade students are critical for their families' stability, making sure food is ready when they come home [and other tasks]," explained Orr Director of Programs Jhonna Turner.

Ray said the school's greatest challenge is not only securing financial resources, but human capital as well.

Added to these stark realities, a drive-by shooting took place in April directly in front of Orr while students were outside on the playground. No one was injured, but the event affected everyone in the school community.

"Sometimes we [say] our students are going through war, even just walking off the school grounds... [When] some of them go home, they see things, hear things, that are a little bit scary. But in the midst of all that, they still have to learn," Turner said.

Nearly 70 violent crimes and 200 property crimes have occurred within a kilometer of the school over the past year alone, according to Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department statistics.

"What we teach our kids is always by the time the lights come on, it's time to come in the house," said Lita Nimmons, whose granddaughter, La'Shayla, is an Orr first grader.

Meeting the challenge

Parents Juawawne Eaton and DeWayne Curry said Orr staff face these challenges creatively and that Reisler's work meshes perfectly.

"Orr tries to teach the positive, not the negative, so [Reisler] fell right in. It was a good experience for the kids," Eaton said.

"We want to go beyond the testing and provide activities that make kids want to come to school," Turner added.

Back at the workshop, Reisler and collaborator Heather May encourage the students to move beyond ideas coming from television. Eventually, 1st grader Paul plants a seed that develops into the song "I Heard it On the Radio."

"Whatever it takes"

Kid Pan Alley has produced three commercial CDs, worked with big-name recording artists and received numerous awards and a Grammy nomination.

"We've had people like Amy Grant and Delbert McClinton, 'Kix' Brooks of Brooks and Dunn, Sissy Spacek, the very well-known American actress. We've been really blessed to have people who recognize the quality of the songs the kids are writing, and want to sing them," Reisler said.

Ray said the week-long workshop and concert created positive memories that will last for years.

"Our slogan here at Orr is 'whatever it takes.' And that's what our staff does here - whatever it takes to make it happen," he said emphatically.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid