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Virtual Residency Profile: Portland and Ghanaian students exchange music and culture

“Not really knowing what a kid is going through outside of whether or not they show up for class–that’s a real challenge for a teacher,” says Todd Fadel, music teacher at Boise-Eliot/Humboldt Elementary School. “With distance learning, it’s especially important to be respectful of privacy in people’s homes. At the same time, it’s important to keep connected and build rapport with students.”

Like so many Oregon and Washington teachers, Todd worked hard to keep up with students during the pandemic. He became known among students as a teacher who cared; they trusted him and often came to him to talk about challenges in their lives. Todd soon realized many of these young people were navigating extremely difficult circumstances and unhealthy levels of stress because of the pandemic. He wanted to do what he could to help.

Inspired by the power of music and with the help of Young Audiences’ Right Brain Initiative, Todd connected with YA teaching artist, Alex Addy, who performs and teaches Ghanaian drumming. Together, they prepared a 6-week arts integration class where Boise-Eliot/Humboldt students were able to learn about Ghanaian drumming. The class looked at how identity fits into music, and Alex shared how, in Ghanaian culture, people celebrate the day of the week a person is born, rather than their exact birthdate.

“They celebrate you every week. That practice inherently builds community because you’re way more likely to find people you share a birth day with versus a birth date. We talked about that in the class—how would it be different if we had a weekly celebration of our lives?” says Todd.

Boise-Eliot/Humboldt students were even able to meet students in Ghana over Zoom in real time. They shared music with each other, and even as the students were across the world from each other, they were able to connect and talk about their shared experience of the pandemic, its impact on their lives and how they are coping.  According to Todd, students could tell how the pandemic was really affecting their peers in Ghana too. 

“It made the world a smaller place in our students’ minds….it felt like we were having a real impact on the students and making more opportunities for compassion. That’s really the heart of what I got out of this year, more than any other year.” 

Young Audiences’ Right Brain Initiative transforms learning for all children through the arts and whole-brain thinking, and that mission became even more important in the past 15 months. We exist to help educators develop techniques to weave creativity into core subjects to improve academic performance. We empower teamwork between the arts community, classroom teachers and school districts. And, we provide a resource hub for our whole community–everyone and anyone with a passion for the arts and education. 

“Right Brain was instrumental in making it happen. We wouldn’t have had that access to Alex or that experience without Young Audiences’ programming.” 

Thank you to Alex Addy and Todd Fadel, and to all our educators, teaching artists, and students who showed up for each other this year! Together, we make arts education happen in our community. 

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