Over the last 20 years, Beth and I have written and recorded more than one hundred songs with the kids and teachers at Archer Street School in Freeport, NY. In the past, we’ve worked with 3rd and 4th graders, but this time we’re working with 2nd graders, a new learning experience for us!
One of the many benefits of working at Archer Street School is our relationship with the principal, Paula Lein, a true friend to children, teachers, and artists. As much as we may have given her students and teachers great songs during our time together, I look back at this partnership as one where Beth and I got the best deal of all. At Archer Street, we have learned how to be better facilitators and songwriters. If anyone thinks we’re good at what we do, then much of the thanks goes to Paula, her staff, and the Freeport Board of Education for giving us the opportunity to grow our skills.
So, how’s it going this year?
Well, some things are the same. As in the past, we have multiple sessions (6), so there’s lots of time to teach the kids about creative writing as well as how to co-write a song based on the school’s academic and social-emotional goals. This year, the school district is concentrating on DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), so the songs we’re writing are supporting that theme.
In the past, we’ve had other universal themes like American History Heroes or Peace, but more often than not we’ve given the teachers free reign to pick their own topics. This has resulted in diverse songs about people like Ruby Bridges, science songs about the Water Cycle or a mindfulness song requested by a teacher who wanted her students to develop better focus.
In short, we have consistently used our songs to support whatever the teachers and the principal want the kids to learn while simultaneously making the experience interactive, collaborative and – to be honest – quite challenging, too. Speaking of challenges – what’s different this year is how hard we have to work to capture and keep the students’ attention. Phew!
While it’s true that attention spans have been on the decline for many years, the pandemic has caused additional, measurable havoc with many students’ ability to focus, communicate and remain at grade level in reading and math. If you want to learn more about this, the New York Times published a story today entitled “Pandemic Learning Loss.” Check it out here.
The good news is that the superintendent of Freeport, the principals and the teachers are devoted professionals who refuse to give up on these kids. Every day, they give 100% even when the challenges of providing children a quality education become harder due to economics, language barriers or other factors not present in more affluent districts.
In my mind, their commitment to a well-rounded education includes an emphasis on the arts which is why we have been working with Archer and other Freeport schools for more than two decades.
Working hard alongside Paula and her teachers has helped to clarify our commitment to working with similar schools. To be sure, we feel more appreciated in districts where a teacher stops us in the hall and offers a compliment or a hug because we’ve listened to their kids and helped those students feel honored and worthy as collaborators.
For many Archer Street students, school is their safe space, a second home where they are fed two good meals and nurtured in so many other ways. Sadly, too many children go to their real home and it’s an empty home or apartment because their parents are working multiple jobs. These kids are lacking not only in supervision but also in developing communication and other social skills that are the status quo in other areas.
My heart breaks for these families. And that’s why our focus with this residency and The John Lennon Real Love Project for Public Schools are pointed toward communities in need. It just makes good sense to go where we are needed the most.
One other thought: I see a bit of my own experience in these students. When I was a little older than them, my mom had to go back to work. My brother and I came home to an empty house (well, except a dog) and we learned how to fend for ourselves a bit earlier than some of my peers. This is not the same as an 8 or 10 year old coming home alone, but I do empathize with their need to grow up fast. It’s hard and it can affect our performance in school or our sense if safety.
Stay tuned. We’ll post some of the songs we’re writing with the kids, soon!