By Carol, Atrium School Parent
"Hey, anyone want to start a rock band with me?" Talya asked her 5th grade peers. "Sure!" five of them answered with enthusiasm and big dreams in their voices.
It wasn't long before their vision became reality. Their first song was chosen and the students began to enlist the support of the adults in their world. Nicholas' dad loaned his own instruments and equipment, Beatrice, Atrium's Music Director, offered the music room for afterschool practices and parents aligned to supervise and bring treats. Linda, Atrium's Head of School, was a great cheerleader and gave options for ways that they could play for the Atrium community.
On a Sunday morning in the end of March, the kids and parents of the group got together to brainstorm, plan and make commitments not only to taking care of the space and the instruments, but also to participating fully in the practices. The kids listened to and asked questions during a Power Point presentation focused on the musical equipment. Parents, too, learned how to better oversee and share responsibility for the instruments and components. Of course, this initial gathering also included a tasty brunch and feast!
Within no time at all, jam sessions began and continued for most Fridays and half day Wednesdays throughout the spring. Early in the process, the decision was made to be a self-organizing group with no intervention from a music teacher. The students voted for Nicholas to be the leader based on his familiarity with the music and his family's equipment. It didn't take long for them to happily and naturally find their roles. Nicholas and Talya landed behind the drums. Emma on bass and David on lead guitar. Henry stood at the keyboard. Sofia took the microphone as lead singer. Even though many had never played their instruments before, they coalesced easily into a true rock band.
At first, they found their way into the music by playing along with a digital soundtrack of the Eye of the Tiger as performed by the original band. Some played by ear and picked up the rhythm and cadence quickly. Others were coached by those who were familiar with the tune. By virtue of the myriad scheduling limitations of six families creating a single working calendar, the kids were not able to enjoy as many group practices as they would have liked. Many did, however, work on polishing their parts independently and outside of the music room context. As time passed, each student found their skill and path towards the other band members.
And then ... one day, they realized that they could play fairly smoothly without the backdrop of the recording. Middle school teachers, overhearing the practices, smiled and danced as they shared their enthusiasm for the group. Parents who monitored the sessions smiled and danced as they shared their enthusiasm for the group. They had, at that point, embodied the music and were on their way towards covering their first song.
The communication between these friends was impressive to witness. There were days when everyone smiled, grooved and felt like they had come a step closer to mastering their song. On other days, however, they could hear when they had veered from a cohesive sound. They spoke to one another with respect and clarity, inspiring and teaching one another without criticism or judgment. They moved around the room from one instrument to another during breaks. They made eye contact and connection during play. In the Atrium tradition, they continuously validated what they were doing well and acknowledged what they needed to adjust and improve, individually and collectively.
After Linda provided options for when and how they would share their music with the school, the students were asked to arrive at consensus. The parents offered the details of the options and then gave space for the group of 5th graders to arrive at their ideal. The only adult stipulation was that they needed to insure that everyone was comfortable with the final choice. The students, in turn, presented their opinions to one another and then followed up with agenda-free inquiry. For instance, one student asked another, "Why do you want to do it that way? Your way scares me, but if you tell me why you think that, maybe I'll understand better." The wording of this quote may not be exact, but the intention of deep listening and willingness to question one's own thinking and then shift was clear in the asking. In the end, the students themselves came up with a great plan that honored each member by maintaining comfort while simultaneously pushing their limits of fearlessness.
This small group of passionate students, the self-named Royals, has rocked the Atrium space with their surprise concert. During that brief end of the year, end of their elementary years, assembly, they embodied all that is enthusiastic, confident, willing, vulnerable, courageous and optimistic. They stood in pride, joy, nervousness and excitement. They embraced a standard of perfectly imperfect and imperfectly perfect, while valuing the fun they had and would have. This, in itself, is an element of deep learning and trust as it can be tricky to arrive at agreement around being "performance ready". They not only wore their chosen band colors, dyed their hair red and donned cool sunglasses, but also adorned themselves in the spirit of the Atrium School.
Within these walls, education takes all forms. We are part of a community that pulses with inclusion, commitment and participation from faculty, families and students alike. With that simple question, "Hey, anyone want to start a rock band with me?", an idea was sparked. Within these six students a deep belief that they could work together to create a great rock band was fueled. We have now seen, and heard, that they were exactly right!