Frost Focuses on Music for Black History Month

Frost Focuses on Music for Black History Month

For this year’s Black History Month celebration at Robert Frost, which encompassed February and extended into early March, teachers Lynne Connors and Sara Watkin-Fox focused for the first time on the crucial role of music in the African-American experience.

“What makes our Black History month celebration so unique is the fact that it is a hands-on experience for the students,” said Watkin-Fox. “Each year, we focus on a different theme and the students partner with us to create a celebration that extends throughout the school. Whether it is setting up a historical display case with Mrs. Connors or researching the various musicians, styles and incredible contributions of African-Americans to the world of music with me or working with both of us to raise awareness throughout the school, this is a student-centered project that brings our entire school community together.”

Connors and Watkin-Fox came up with a list of musical genres to cover along with a timeline to cover the topics. Connors then ordered the topics in a calendar, and Watkin-Fox’s classes researched which musicians and songs to use. Each week during Black History Month, student-selected musical choices that span both history and musical styles were played on the school’s PA system, resulting in students dancing and singing in the halls.

Students also utilized Frost’s newly acquired Chromebooks to increase their understanding of the subject, conducting technology and sharpening research skills to listen to and learn about African-Americans' significant contribution to music throughout history.

“The lesson traced the evolution of the African-American contribution to the world of music, starting with African drumming and moving on to a writing prompt on blues, studying how it originated in the time of slavery on the Mississippi Delta,” said Watkin-Fox. “We used technology for the jazz station – an independent study on Louis Armstrong and the history of jazz in this country. Our last station involved creating promotional posters for the Motown recording studio, the first that did not discriminate against African-American musicians. Our students learned about the good as well as the bad, about the racism that many of the musicians had to deal with and the difficulties in getting their music recorded.

“Frost is proud to have showcased several extremely influential African-American musicians including Louis Armstrong, Berry Gordy and Chuck Berry,” said Bradley Murphy, Deer Park’s curriculum associate for fine and performing arts. “Through experiences like this, our students are able to experience the masterpieces these amazing musicians produced many years ago.”

“I learned about different types of music like jazz and the blues,” said seventh-grader Angeline Burnett. “I feel like we should give credit to the African-Americans because they built our structure of music.”

“It was good because we learned about black history and how African-Americans made music throughout the years and through many hardships,” said seventh-grader Jayden Philippe.

Based on student research, Connors created a showcase in Frost’s main lobby, displaying the people’s movement from Africa through slavery and migration patterns, and their music progressing from blues through jazz and into rock, hip hop and rap, as well as different cities in the U.S. where these music genres were birthed. The showcase also featured a poem by student Alexa Cornelia.

“I came up with the poem because I didn’t know black history before, so I made a poem from my heart,” said Cornelia. “People don’t get respected. I made the poem to tell them that they do matter, and not to let anyone change who they are.”

Finally, Connors visited English as a new language classes to discuss her own personal narrative and instill pride.

“As a survivor of segregated schools on Long Island, I can relate to the ENL students’ feelings of being an outsider looking in,” she said. “I started with my family, to show that African-Americans could be prosperous. This is their heritage, and for some it’s their introduction to something they don’t know about.”