Updated: Sep 12
September 11, 2023
“We know that if you want a kid to succeed, you don’t tell her to take her earbuds out. You ask her what she’s listening to, and then you trace it back together. Kids come to us with the natural gift of curiosity, and the TeachRock curriculum helps teachers meet them there on the way to meaningful learning.” - TeachRock founder Stevie Van Zandt
“[Stevie Van Zandt’s Rock and Soul Forever Foundation] and its TeachRock program bring an essential curriculum of music and culture into school, and make it available at no cost to educators. In a time of cutbacks in arts funding, Steve’s programs are keeping kids engaged in the arts and in school. This is his greatest legacy.” – TeachRock Founders Board member Bruce Springsteen
The 2023-24 school-year will mark a major step forward for TeachRock, the organization launched in 2006 by founder Steven Van Zandt with the support of Founders Board members Bono, Jackson Browne, Martin Scorsese, and Bruce Springsteen. Two Tennessee public schools - Red Bank Middle School in Chattanooga and West End Middle School in Nashville - will implement TeachRock's new Harmony Student Wellness Program with all students on a daily basis during the 2023-24 school-year. West End Middle School also will work with TeachRock to develop International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Unit Plans for its students. Letters To You recently spoke with TeachRock's Executive Director Bill Carbone and Partner School Liaison Gina Machado about these exciting developments.
While the TeachRock resources and curriculum-units already are being used widely by many teachers and schools across the U.S. and even in other countries abroad, TeachRock's 2023-24 work with the Tennessee schools will be part of a new phase of growth and expansion. "There have been plenty of partnerships," Carbone told us, "but this is our first program where the school says, 'We're going to do this program; all hands on deck.' We help them set it up. It runs 10-15 minutes per day in Homeroom or Advisory Period. The full school does it. So it's an evolution. We've done all of these partnerships where we've worked with, maybe, all of the social-studies teachers, or at times with the whole school and the goal is every subject-area tries arts-integration to some degree... But this is a much more refined full-school program. We did it for the first time last year in one school, and this year is really our big pilot year where we're going to run it in a number of different places, different geographies, different student populations, and really get to see what works."
The Harmony Student Wellness Program also emphasizes social-emotional learning in its presentation of TeachRock's curriculum content. "We've had social- and emotional-learning content on the website before," said Machado, "but this is different in that it's a comprehensive program that offers a shared experience to every child in the school... What sparks this? Certainly the COVID-19 years and seeing the outcome and the effects on children after being shut down and having interruptions in their education, but it's always been important to educate the whole child... You're not going to get to the math, the science, and the social studies if a kid is coming into class and they're not emotionally present. Kids come in; they're humans just like us. They bring their own baggage from home; what is the stuff that they need to work through and learn how to cope with in order to be able to access the core-content curriculum that we're trying to teach? I think COVID-19 really brought that need to the forefront. We've always needed to care for the child as a whole person, but now it really has a lot of educators thinking about it. And one of the strengths of our organization is listening to teacher voice in addition to student voice, and applying that to our resources. Our goal is to create things that are really turnkey, that teachers can open and pretty much be ready to deliver. Ultimately, by supporting teachers in this way, we know that we're reaching tons and tons of students."
One component of the program is designed to connect with parents and guardians as stakeholders, too. A weekly letter goes home to students' families to inform them of what songs the students will hear, the topics that will be discussed, etc. This way, added Machado, "the families are really in on it, too, and we're all coming together as a community, not just the school-building community but the families who are part of it, as well."
Another key component of the Harmony Student Wellness Program is the involvement of members of TeachRock's newly formed Artist Council. The Council currently consists of fourteen members, all of them notable figures who collectively represent a variety of musical genres: Erykah Badu, Common, Sheryl Crow, Peter Gabriel, Norah Jones, DJ Khaled, Skip Marley, Darryl McDaniels, Melle Mel, Margo Price, Rapsody, Gina Schock, Marty Stuart, and Taboo. "There are five modules in the program," explained Machado, "and in each of those modules we feature one of the Artist Council members." Erykah Badu led off with what Machado described as a "beautiful student-facing video for us, where she's talking directly to students and saying basically, 'You all have the potential inside of you.' Just a really wonderful message to them, and we already had a lesson written about individuality, which is centered around her career and her music, so that video tied into that lesson so beautifully."
Carbone added, "We've recently done a bunch of [Artist Council] interviews. Darryl McDaniels and Melle Mel came to Stevie's studio, and we did interviews with them, with content from those interviews added to our hip-hop resources. The whole point was, 'Okay, I'm behind the camera asking the questions, but you're talking to kids. You're talking to teenagers when you're looking at the camera.' So we got them to tell their stories and their roles in the history of hip-hop. Youth culture, too...like, their hopes and dreams as kids. We were able to cut those up into little pieces and put those into our hip-hop lesson plans. And we're working on even more of that. DJ Khaled also sent some videos that we were able to use for some of that project.
"Marty Stuart, on the country-music side, this year at the National Council for the Social Studies' annual conference in December - which is a major conference with about 4000 teachers - will do a keynote conversation with another educator and me, including a little bit of Marty performing. The subject is the similarities between culturally responsive education in urban and rural environments. What does it mean to use music to reach kids in cities and what does it mean to use music to reach kids in extremely rural areas? What are the things that are most important? Some educators who've been in both situations will tell you that they're so similar. The kids need the same things, though we sort of talk about those two situations differently, and they're filtered through our own sorts of issues in the United States, but when it comes down to it those kids need the same things, so how can we give them what they need through reaching them with music?"
All of the Artist Council members, added Carbone, "basically agreed to do something with us in the next three years. If they're touring one year, you might not be able to do much of anything with them, but then the next year... So it's really exciting, and I feel like we're just getting started with it, on how to engage them."
Carbone also stated that Little Steven Van Zandt - not surprisingly - continues to put "a lot of heart, soul, time, and energy" into TeachRock, "and it's been really exciting to take the idea that was totally his in the founding of this organization, and just kind of evolve it with him. I also would like everyone to know that we pretty much self-fund through fundraising campaigns, and work towards grants. Donations are always appreciated, of course, and are tax-deductible. (Please click here to donate.) Other ways to help are sharing information about TeachRock.org with teachers and administrators, if you have educators in your life. Ask them to take a look and see what they think. And if you work in a place that has corporate giving, make sure that your corporate-giving office knows that we exist and can provide information on our various funding campaigns."
TeachRock also has just launched an ongoing partnership with The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music. Next month we'll have more information on this exciting partnership. Stay tuned...