Children: Let Them Amaze You
Seen and Heard
There’s a school in New York City where children can be seen and heard. You may be thinking: seen and heard? What are you talking about? All children are seen and heard at every school in America, right? Well, that’s true, but only to a degree, depending on the environment. Some children are silenced by programs that don’t speak to their individual needs, such as those with learning disabilities, others are silenced because they are immigrants and their native tongue is not heard in the classrooms, others are silenced simply because they are shy and have a deep fear of speaking up and letting their voice be heard.
Thankfully, the VOICE Charter School in Long Island City, Queens, NY, provides a learning environment where all the children can be seen and heard every day. Walk through the halls and you will hear their voices, sometimes in classrooms of choral instruction, other times in faint little hums traversing the corridors as the children pass by.
The New York Times published an article on December 19, 2014, about this happy place in Queens where the children not only thrive on music, but excel academically as well. Here is an excerpt that will make you smile:
In an era of dwindling attention to the arts in public schools, Voice is now in its seventh year. Mr. Headley founded the school after learning that music and movement might improve language acquisition, he said, a concept he came across while he was studying at a principal training program called New Leaders. Voice started with kindergarten and has added one new grade each year; it expects to reach its full complement of kindergarten through eighth grade in the fall.
Today, the school has just shy of 600 students spread between two buildings in Long Island City; one of them used to be a Catholic school. Bells from St. Rita’s Roman Catholic Church, right next door, chime throughout the day. Seventy percent of the students qualified for free lunch last year, according to city data. Like other New York charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, it admits students through a lottery. No one auditions.
Academically, students at Voice did significantly better than the city average on New York State math exams last year, with 70 percent of its students passing, compared with 39 percent citywide. Their English performance was less impressive, but with 39 percent passing, it still beat the citywide average of 30 percent.
The children, each in a uniform of a sky-blue shirt and navy skirt or slacks, are instructed to be quiet in the hallways and asked not to shriek during gym class, to protect order as well as their voices. But what really distinguishes the school are the sounds. Songs in English, Spanish, Japanese and German drift through the buildings, pens rhythmically tap against any convenient hard surface, and little bursts of music surface even where they are not meant to be.
“There’s a lot of humming, especially right after choir class,” Kate Athens, a fourth-grade teacher, said.
“They’re not doing it to be disruptive; it’s just stuck in their heads.”
Humming aside, Ms. Athens, a fourth-year teacher who has never taught elsewhere, said the students appeared to learn skills in their music lessons that translated to her classroom.
“They learn to stick with something hard and breaking things down into steps,” she said. “And work together as a group at such a young age.”
All this pops especially brightly against the drab state of the arts in New York City public schools at large, where a report by the comptroller this spring found that spending on arts supplies and equipment fell by 84 percent from 2006 to 2013. The report also found that 20 percent of public schools had no arts teachers at all, and that the dearth in arts education was especially dire in low-income areas. The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has since increased arts funding and pledged to hire 120 new arts teachers in middle and high schools, where state law requires arts instruction.
Here’s the mission statement for VOICE Charter School:
We believe participating in music and the arts makes life richer and helps children with their traditional academics. Music and art help develop problem solving and critical thinking skills and open children's imagination. Students at VOICE Charter School participate in daily art activities and rigorous daily choral training. Our experience has shown that all children are capable of participating in, and learning from, choral training. At VOICE Charter School, all students will sing.