PITTSFIELD — To develop an educational unit for Morningside Community School fourth graders based on the book, “Rent Party Jazz,” educators reached out to a world-renowned musician for guidance, but received so much more.
Set in the 1930s, the book by William Miller tells the story of Sonny Comeaux, a boy whose mother loses her job, with rent payment soon due to an unsparing landlord. As his worry mounts, Sonny encounters a jazz musician who brings the community together for jazz party to raise money for their rent — in a story Morningside teachers based a multi-disciplinary educational unit that delved into issues of activism, racial and economic injustice and more, said Principal Monica Zanin.
Teachers set out planning for the musical aspect of the lesson unit, and set out to deepen students’ understanding of jazz and culture in the 1930s. They looked to none other than Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the drummer for The Roots and a music journalist, for guidance.
“The work that our teachers and our students just did,” said Zanin, describing the week-long educational experience, “will move the nation forward. This is the work that’s going to move our nation forward, having rich discussions about injustice, even with children, and talking about what we can do as individuals to make a wrong right.”
Originally seeking Thompson’s input on the popular jazz musicians of the era, Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning Kristen Palatt said the legendary artist offered much more.
“He said, ‘How about I do you one better, how about I throw Morningside a rent party,’” said Palatt, whose brother-in-law works with Thompson.
That’s the story of how the world-famous musician offered to host what may prove to be the Morningside Parent Teacher Organization biggest fundraiser ever — by throwing Morningside its very own “Jazz Party” fundraiser.
The one-hour online fundraiser begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday, and will be live-streamed across The Roots’ social media platforms including Facebook and YouTube, said Zanin.
Thompson will share with viewers among The Roots’ huge following the story of the Morningside fourth graders, then perform popular jazz music from the 1930s, as well as contemporary songs they inspired.
All the while, the QR code — which can be scanned by smartphones — for Morningside PTO’s Venmo account will be displayed during the livestream. By scanning the code, viewers from anywhere in the world will be able to donate directly to the parent-teacher group.
The educational experience won’t stop when the high-profile fundraiser ends, said Zanin and Palatt.
Fourth graders themselves will decide how to spend the money raised to help solve issues in their community, and support one another. Palatt said students have already brainstormed some ideas — like sending classmates home with a box of school supplies, or creating a “party in a box” to brighten up students’ days during remote learning.
Palatt said the educational unit taught the fourth grade teachers, too. All while being done remotely, the educators through the discussion learned more about their students, their lives and their passions.
By understanding students’ lives, the challenges they face and what makes them tick, teachers can tailor lessons to meet children where they are, and provide learning opportunities that resonate, said Zanin.
“If we don’t know our students well, we’re not going to be able to teach them, they aren’t going to be able to learn, and we aren’t going to be able to provide opportunities to them,” she said. “That’s [opportunity] just provided for them.”
To watch the livestream the fundraiser on Monday, head to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=RgBLud-HSbM&feature=youtu.be