NYer Of The Week: Teacher-Turned-Rocker Helps Kids Learn Though Music
This week’s New Yorker of the Week is putting the edge back in education. As a teacher turned rock musician, he's bringing music to a school in Brooklyn with surprisingly academic results. John Schiumo filed the following report.
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Music, singing, and a little bit of head banging doesn't make for a normal science lesson.
But it's how students at P.S 119 in Brooklyn are learning some of the most difficult concepts of their curriculum.
And it's the brainchild of Paulie Z, founder of the non-profit Rock Asylum.
Stifled by the education system, teacher Paul Zablidowsky decided to swap his lesson plan for a guitar and a stage name. He quit teaching and became a musician – but the classroom kept calling.
"These guys know every word to every song that's on the radio," he says of his students. "How is that possible? That's what made me realize all you have to do is connect the two."
His first challenge was translating the scientific method into music, and getting it stuck in kids' heads.
"There's a disconnect between the inspiration and the education," he says. "They feel like they are just being fed content that doesn't mean anything."
"I felt like I was going to do badly, 'cause I wasn't understanding what my teacher was explaining to me," says Sophia, a P.S. 119 student.
Putting the information to music changed that.
"When he made the song, it got really like stuck in my head and I could memorize it over and over," says Leandra, another P.S. 119 student.
"It was like, 'Oh my God, this really does work," Zablidowsky says. "They were handing in blank pieces of paper, and now they are getting perfect scores."
Teachers are noticing improvements, in test scores and in life.
"I see a huge difference in just the way they relate to each other and the respect they have for each other," says P.S. 119 teacher Karen Larossa.
"It's learning a new language," Zablidowsky says. "To learn how to read notes, to learn rhythm and timing – it's math, it's writing, how can it possibly just be fun? It's much more powerful than that. My kids one day will come home and say, 'Dad, I just learned how to do a square root – you wanna hear the song?'"
And so, for mixing musical aspirations with education, Paulie Z is our New Yorker of the Week.