Spinning the fresh wax as part of Public Achievement

At InterDistrict Downtown School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Public Achievement is part of the ninth-grade civics curriculum. Danielle Peterson, Minnesota organizer for Public Achievement and an experienced PA coach, is working with social studies teacher Molly Keenan to co-coach two ninth-grade teams as they develop skills to be powerful, active citizens.

In this second interview in a series, Danielle describes an exercise she uses as part of the reflection process of Public Achievement.

Danielle: I talk [with young people] a lot about the messages that music can create, and how powerful that is. Music and art are valid and important mediums that have allowed people to create change.

Each week, I ask for a volunteer to bring in music the following week. The volunteer DJ needs to be able to articulate in a few sentences why the song or artist is significant to him or her. Young people have brought in a little of everything, from R&B and hip hop, to some pop and rock. Some say, “The song is pretty. It makes me happy? or “It inspires me.? Others say, “When I listen to this song I don’t feel alone. The song talks about things I’ve gone through and it makes me feel good that other people understand.? Songs can have cursing – and I have a hard time coming up with songs that are clean - but in that case the young person has to be able to defend why that song is useful to the class.

Before we play the music, I’ll put a question on the board, for example, “When have you felt powerful?,? or ask the students to reflect on things we’ve done. While the music plays, they write a response.

Afterward, they turn their written reflections in to me. Molly, their teacher and co-coach, gives them writing credit if the reflections are thoughtful (they don’t have to be grammatically correct). For me, the reflections are a way to get feedback and have a better sense of where the young people are at in this experience.

Can something like this work with younger kids?

Maybe not with music, but coaches over the years have brought in tangible items like toys or stuffed animals that kids use as a talking stick for spoken reflection. A key is to keep the activity moving – always.

What does this exercise help the group achieve?

I think this exercise can help chip away at that feeling of “this is just another class.? That’s difficult to do when we’re in the classroom where they do school, and they associate school with not having power. I think this exercise also says I value what they are interested in, which is important in developing trust and rapport with them as a coach.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs