The Students Who Tested the Rockademix Program
So by now you’re likely wondering how and where I found an entire class of kids to pilot the Rockademix program. It’s every curriculum creator’s dream (or it should be!) to actually test things out with a diverse group of average kids before hitting the schools – so how did we manage this?
Well, it wasn’t easy! In fact, out of all the work involved in the creation of Rockademix, including enlisting the help of Grammy-winning musicians and professors of education, writing standards-based original songs that were both musically happening and academically rich, establishing a 501c3 non-profit, hiring employees, and renting an office space and converting it into a fully functioning classroom, the assembling of a class of students was the hardest part.
One reason for this, ironically, is that I wanted the kids piloting the program to be average public school kids, and I wanted it to be free. I knew that if I developed Rockademix with a small group of cherry-picked students, it wouldn’t be put to the test, and teachers and administrators looking at the program would say, “That wouldn’t work in my classroom!”
As a veteran classroom teacher with 15 years of experience teaching in less affluent schools, I’ve seen a lot of curriculum presentations at staff meetings. Often, the curriculum being showcased seemed to be tested with a small group of compliant students. As a staff, we’d sit there and roll our eyes.
Teachers like me are used to having 30 kids with widely varying academic and social levels, who present a host of challenges. In a recent first grade class, I had 33 students on day one. Some couldn’t speak any English or name a single letter or number, and others read at a fifth-grade level.
I knew the methods of Rockademix would work with a diverse group, because it’s born from the Kids Like Blues project I created for that same public school class. Although the project evolved into an actual gigging band (our entire class played the CA State Fair on the second to last day of school as a culminating exercise!), it was first and foremost a teaching methodology I created to meet the academic and social needs of my students.
The Kids Like Blues project was a huge success and was even recognized by the US Department of Education. Encouraged by some professors, I took two years off from teaching to create Rockademix, which is in some ways the successor to Kids Like Blues – a much more fleshed out and mature version.
But for the first time in 15 years, I was out of the classroom. How could I get kids to come to the Rockademix location? I took to the streets and the Internet, posting flyers and making presentations in English and Spanish in public schools in San Marcos and Vista. I offered the class free to local, interested students. As the inquiries came in, I met the students and their parents and accepted anyone and everyone who wanted to join.
I love networking on the community level! The prospective parents and kids and I would meet at Denny’s and talk about Rockademix. They usually had visions of some type of audition, because they saw dancing and singing kids in the flyer. But Rockademix is all about using music and the arts to teach all kids, not just the ones who have a knack for music. Some of the parents spoke no English, and I conducted the meetings in Spanish.
I ended up with an incredibly diverse group of kids ages 5-11 at varying academic and developmental levels. Some spoke little English, and some read at an eighth grade level. Some loved singing, and some were shy and hesitant. They each lent something unique to the program. For example, when we were collectively coming up with dance moves to accompany the original songs, the moves had to pass muster with girls and boys in kindergarten, all the way to 4rth grade. Some of the most valuable input came from older boys who’d say, “There’s no way I’m doing that!” (See a blog post here about how we collaboratively came up with our own dance moves). Their input was invaluable because if Rockademix is to work, it has to be “cool” enough for other boys in fourth grade.
Most were students from less affluent elementary schools. We met for nine months after school for two hours, twice a week on average. Most of the parents worked all day and driving 20 minutes to our location at night was a significant investment in time and gas money to them, so I was honored they chose to continue to come week after week.
I realize having 20 kids ages 5-11 in the same room, learning at the same time, may sound like a teacher’s nightmare – but the truth is, it was hands down one of the best things that could have happened. Rather than ending up with a curriculum that works well for a particular grade level, specific skill level, or specific type of learner, the students in the Rockademix class forced the program to evolve into something that works for kids of all ages and types.
I now know everything that makes it into Rockademix is high interest, engaging, and just good teaching – if it’s not, my volunteer class wouldn’t keep showing up. I no longer have the luxury I did when I was a classroom teacher – back then, if I wasn’t on my game one day, my students still came back the next day. Now, nothing is keeping my class together and their parents willing to drive to our afterschool Rockademix class except a solid program..