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“Love is What We Study”: High School Students Imagine a Perfect World through Back to School with JOY Grant

The District of Columbia is home to 21 new recording artists, all still in high school.

This fall, 10th and 11th grade students at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School and Roosevelt High School had the opportunity to join a music production class led by Konshens the MC, a hip-hop artist, educator, and youth advocate. Students wrote their own lyrics in response to the prompt, “In a Perfect World,” and the resulting music weaves together the voices of students accompanied by opening piano riffs and a mellow beat.

The music production class was supported by Flamboyan Foundation’s Back to School with JOY grant program, an initiative during the 2021-22 school year to bring joyful experiences back to the classroom after three school years interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. It offered an opportunity for students to learn more about themselves – and to share their contributions with the world.

Nevaeh and Estephany, both students at E.L. Haynes, said the process of writing down and rhyming their own thoughts helped them figure out how they feel and where they might want to go in the future.

“It made me think more about my future or how I view things,” said Estephany. “It was a great moment for me to realize: Who do I want to become? Who will I become in the future?”

Nevaeh agreed: “Writing the lyrics was memorable. Writing helps me improve more about what my thoughts are, how they come forward.”

Music production was new for both students, though they both love music. Nevaeh has been writing lyrics and creating art for years, and she was eager for the chance to record. Estephany shared how music plays a central role in her life: “Some [music] has those moments where you’re like, ‘I really gotta step it up.’ Or where you realize you can get to higher ways in life,” she said. Though she was unsure at first about recording her own music, ultimately the experience helped her learn more about herself.

The class offered the opportunity for students to develop new skills and try something unfamiliar – and maybe even scary. Konshens remembered one student who was hesitant to record her lyrics at first, but finally did so, adding to the beauty of the piece.

“It is especially joyful when people are reluctant to share initially, and then you can watch them break through the barrier. They realize: This is a judgment-free zone,” he said.

In their lyrics, students speak about joyful visions both expansive and closer to home –  from spending time with their family outside on a sunny day to envisioning no more poverty or violence in our world.

A world where nobody is poor
Or short of money
Love is what we study

Paula Almond, a teacher and transition coordinator at E.L. Haynes, said students need more ways to creatively express themselves like the music production class funded through Back to School with JOY.

“It was my first time seeing an opportunity like this. It was incredible for me to see how talented the students are… I would love to see the students who are very interested have the chance to record a whole track.”

Creating spaces for student expression and voice is more critical than ever, said Sarah Grime, the project manager for Arts to Advocacy at SchoolTalk, the organization that provided the music production opportunity for students at E.L. Haynes through the Flamboyan grant.

“Two years into a pandemic, youth voice needs to be elevated,” said Grime. “These students have the answers to a lot of questions that adults are spinning their wheels about.”

Check out their songs!

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