Rap joins poetry unit at Fisher Elementary

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ARLINGTON — Poetry and rap? Two sides of the same coin.

At least, a class of 15 fourth-graders at Fisher Elementary School have come to see their similarities.

The class had a Skype call Tuesday with Grammy-winning recording artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo as part of their poetry unit, which includes rap for the first time this year.

"I heard you guys have been working on some rhymes," said the rapper. "I'm sitting here with my notebook, and I'm writing some rhymes myself."

The students have been listening to Skidoo's music since school started, with their teacher, Charlie Cummings.

In the nearly 45-minute call, students took turns asking him various questions, including some about his start in music, his favorite song he's written and how he finds the other artists he works with.

As someone from outside of a large city, he said he never thought he'd make it in music. "I was out in the middle of nowhere," he said. But, he kept trying.

It's important to pursue things that make you feel happy and alive — even if they seem like a long shot, he told the class.

"You've got to pay attention to those things," he said.

One student asked the rapper why he decided to go into writing music for children.

Because he had a daughter, he said. "When parents have kids, they kind of become kids again," he said. "There's a lot of things that kids know that we forget by the time we get this old."

Also, he said, a lot of music is about negative things, like anger or a romantic breakup.

"That's all valuable stuff, but sometimes, you just want to hear a song about how a cloud looks like a dragon," he said. And creativity itself is about the "most valuable thing in the world," he said.

Cummings said he discovered the rapper "sort of accidentally" on Pandora years ago, and began playing his music for his classes.

"It's not cutesy, cheesy rap," he said of the music. It sounds like legitimate rap music, but with a positive message.

This year, his students really gravitated toward the artist's music, which led him to introduce rap into the fourth-grade poetry unit."It seemed like a natural fit to bring rap into poetry," he said.

Rap follows a lot of the same rules as classical poetry, but in a more modern way, he said.

He started the poetry unit, which students will finish around the end of this month, with kids reading and writing specific types of poems, like haikus and quatrains.

Then, he gave them a copy of the lyrics to one of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo's songs, and had them analyze the rhyme scheme, just like they would for a poem. Then he played the song for them.

"That's sort of the moment that they made the connection between poetry and rap," he said.

Students have been writing their own individual rap verses, which will be put together in a class rap.

In fourth grade, Cummings said, many students aren't interested in writing. "I hated writing," he said, recalling his own time as a fourth-grader. "It's not atypical for kids to not like writing at this age."

That's because it's repetitive, and requires frequent revisions.

But with the introduction of rap in the poetry unit, Cummings said he's seen changes in previously reluctant writers.

"Even my kids that would hide in the bathroom during writing class are totally into working on their own lyrics," he said.

He plans to continue including rap in the poetry unit for future classes.

The school has also been very supportive of his efforts, he said. "It was really a non-issue," he said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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