A Look Inside a Middle School Spoken Word Program

By Laila Copperansky, Performing Arts Workshop Intern

Photo credit: Laila Copperansky

Students at Paul Revere use spoken word poetry to explore self-identity and issues of race and ethnicity. Photo credit: Laila Copperansky

This fall, I’ve had the pleasure of being a fly on the wall for four of core artist Rahman Jamaal’s middle school spoken word classes at Paul Revere College Preparatory School in Bernal Heights. The combination of rap music and middle schoolers has resulted in an exploration of self-identity and issues of race and ethnicity. Rahman’s curriculum combines both the technical and the artistic aspects of hip hop. His lessons span topics such as rhythm, rhyme, and the structure of rap and provide students with ample opportunities to express their own beliefs through dialogue and written work.

In September students began to learn how to differentiate rhythms by practicing simple counting exercises. They moved on to identify these rhythms while watching other artists’ music videos, including the music video “I am Malala”, which is performed by young girls from around the world who use the platform of rap music to spread awareness of Malala’s message and advocate for girls’ right to education. This ignited a series of fascinating reactions and comments from students, who were shocked to see a group of girls their own age with a clear sense of rhythm and the confidence to share a strong message in a rap. These reactions led to questions about Malala herself, and the powerful realization by one student that this video was about “fighting for your rights using words!”

Students are continuing to expand their understanding of the technical, artistic, and expressive aspects of rap. In a recent class, students began to demonstrate that they are ready to connect their personal identities to their brainstorming and writing during class. In late October, Paul Revere hosts a “Latin Heritage Day” during which the school celebrates a culture and ancestry which many of their students share. Rahman’s class has agreed to write a “group rap” which they will perform at the event. Students started by brainstorming aspects of Latin Heritage from which they could be inspired to write a rap. The list began with foods and then moved on to Latino celebrities. When prompted by Rahman to think about the origins of Latin culture, students began to call out words like “Mayan” , “Aztec”, “Quetzalcoatl” and “Montezuma”. Eventually, two powerful topics emerged: the Mexican legend of “La Llorona” (which may have originated from the story of an indigenous woman who betrayed her people by becoming Cortez’s mistress) and the challenges of Latino children who immigrate to the United States without their parents. These topics reflect both the injustices of the past and of the present, while also providing a powerful opportunity for students to connect and reflect upon their own experiences and identities.

Students have the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in Rahman’s class four times a week, which adds an unusual intensity to their experience. Since this is only the beginning of Rahman’s thirty week program, students’ explorations and discoveries will continue to evolve until the end of the school year.


SF Voters Decisively Pass Prop C

By Jessica Mele, Executive Director

It’s December, and election day already seems a world (and a few turkey dinners) away. This year, I gave thanks that San Francisco voters decisively passed Proposition C by 74.44%!!! As I wrote in a blog post in October, Prop C included the reauthorization of two public sources of funding for arts education – the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF – formerly Prop H) and the Children’s Fund. The board of Performing Arts Workshop unanimously voted to endorse Prop C for this reason — to strengthen and grow the support system for children and families in San Francisco.

Proposition C not only reauthorized two vital public funding sources for services for children and families; it also improved the existing governing structure for one of the funds, increased the baseline of funding for the Children’s Fund, expanded to serve more youth, and created an oversight council at the Mayor’s office.

At the Workshop, we’re under no illusions that these funding sources will mean equitable access for all SF youth to high-quality arts education. That kind of equity takes investment of all kinds. And at the same time, I am proud that San Francisco voters took a stand for the public’s investment in educational equity. These kinds of investments will hopefully keep children and families in San Francisco for many years to come.

Summarized changes to each fund as a result of passing Prop C:

Public Education Enrichment Fund
-Eliminate a provision that allowed the city to defer up to a quarter of the set contributions to PEEF in any year the city had a budget shortfall of $100 million or more (known as the “trigger”).
-Lengthen the sunset to 26 years from 15 years, so reauthorization happens in tandem with Children’s Fund.
-Require the city to provide its PEEF allocation to the school district entirely in cash (rather than in-kind services)
-Extend funding for universal preschool to include 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, but would still give priority to 4-year-olds. The City could also use these funds to develop services for children from birth to 3 years old.

Children’s Fund
-Increase the Children’s Fund allocation from the General Fund to $0.04 per $100 of assessed property value (from $0.03)
-Expanded to include Transitional Aged Youth (aged 18-24, who have aged out of of the foster care & juvenile justice systems)
-Lengthen the sunset to 25 years (from 10 years), so reauthorization happens in tandem with PEEF.
-Create a new, strengthened Citizen’s Advisory Council, with more oversight and budget authority (details currently being drafted in trailing legislation)
-Extend granting cycle from 3 to 5 years.

Create a new oversight council of city department heads whose departments provide children and family services (ex: DCYF, SFUSD, Department of Public Health; Department of Public Works, etc. – details currently being drafted in trailing legislation). This council would create a plan for the city to improve the condition of children and families, assessing city policies and programs and making general recommendations every five years.

References: “City of San Francisco ‘Children and Families First’ City Funds, Tax and Administration Proposal, Proposition C (November 2014)” – Ballotpedia