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

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office 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.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs