'The reason I get up in the morning': Hip-hop class ties together music, dance, poetry, history, politics
LEOMINSTER >> Many students race to school because they're running late. Leominster High School senior Brandon Russo-Serrano does it because he's excited.
"This class is the reason I get up in the morning," Russo-Serrano said.
Hip Hop Culture is one of the newest, and arguably most popular, electives being offered at the high school.
The 25-student class covers all things related to the music genre, tying together rap music and dancing with the poetry, history and politics to which they're so closely connected.
"Our main focus was creating a class that would be student-based and student-motivated so that they could be more active in their learning and really excited to go into a class and learn something that interested them," said Kim Dawson, one of the two teachers for the class.
The idea for the program was initially pitched by English teacher Erica Redner-Danzig, who for the past few years had already been using hip-hop as a way to keep students interested in their work.
"Hip-hop really is poetry," she said. "I've had a couple students over the years where the only way to get them engaged was bringing in hip-hop lyrics when we were getting into poetry."
"We're getting some great results, and we've been really impressed by it," Dawson said. "Some of the kids in the class aren't usually the type to do their work, but we're seeing them turn all of their assignments in."
Recently students used lyrics from different rap music as inspiration for original poems they had to write.
This week they're focusing on freestyle dance and rap.
"Whenever you're doing a craft such as rapping or dancing, you'll say or do whatever comes to mind," senior Eric Abakah said. "For dancing, I just let my body move and let the music dictate my movements."
Many of the students accepted to take the class — from among more than 100 who applied — said they wanted learn more about a topic they were already passionate about.
"I thought if I took this class I could learn more about dancing, it's nature, where it came from," Abakah said.
"For me, music in general, whether it's hip-hop, metal or country ... it's always been a part of my life, so when I heard Dr. Lord talk about a Hip Hop Culture class, my ears went straight up," said Russo-Serrano.
One of the class' biggest fans is LHS Principal Christopher Lord, who, after watching a presentation last week, decided to perform a rap of his own to students on Friday.
"I thought this was just an awesome idea ... I had no idea there was so much literature that was research-based and has some merit in educational standards," he said, adding that the class could be expanded in the future.
Redner-Danzig thinks the class could grow or be spun off into other hip-hop classes that focus specifically on history, politics or even economics.
Even though there's only one class being offered right now, current students look at it as something for LHS to be proud of.
"It gives us the opportunity to experiment with this and see how far it can go," said Abakah. "If this works out well, I'd like to see something like it implemented in all other schools or as many as possible."
"A lot of people who live in Massachusetts and the rest of the East Coast live lives revolving around hip-hop and rap, so having LHS do this is a blessing for a lot of people," he said.
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