D.C. teacher schools students with hip-hop syllabus

by Stephen D. Riley
For New Pittsburgh Courier

(NNPA)—It landed on vinyl then moved to cassette; traveled to CD before reaching iTunes to be downloaded to iPods. The history of hip-hop has had a long and winding journey, but a Washington, D.C. teacher is making sure the origin never escapes her students.

Special education inclusion teacher Pamela Mitchell instituted her Hip Hop Scholars program in 2004 as a means of improving student testing, listening and study skills. Through a hip-hop-based curriculum, the program also teaches research methods and strengthens vocabulary through study of various music moguls and culture history.

“There’s a disparity in the way our kids approach study,” Mitchell said. “They don’t know how to study, they don’t know where to study and they don’t know where to begin to study.”

Teaching students how to research, study and create their own media led Mitchell to pen her “Media in Me” program in 2003. Instead of trying to jam uninspiring concepts into inattentive minds, Mitchell crafted a blueprint that would hold their attention by providing them with a flavorful and attractive subject.

The program exploded onto the national education scene as the Hip Hop Scholars, while establishing Mitchell as a unique and well-respected entrepreneur. Her company, In-Class Solutions, offers tutorial development, mentoring and counseling services to a variety of learning institutions throughout the metropolitan area.

“It’s a good program and I’ve learned a lot about hip-hop,” said 17-year-old Dijon Murray, a student participating in the program. “Some of my classes that I’m taking now really don’t interest me, but hip- hop does because I learn more about my background and where hip-hop really came from.”

Much like the iconic jazz, rock ’n’ roll and blues music genres, hip-hop has been the basis of a cultural era. Hip-hop culture leaked onto the scene from the alleyways of New York in the late 1970s, accompanied by fashion, new dances, graffiti and slick lingo. By the time the ’80s were drawing to a close, hip-hop—along with rap music—had taken on global appeal, captivating large audiences and providing African-Americans with a powerful voice on the airwaves.

“Our movement was about self-awareness and who we were and the music brought that to us,” said Mitchell, who grew up listening to rap music in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “When I’m with young people and I’m going through schools and I ask a student who [a particular rapper] is and they have no idea, it’s frightening to me.”

Reintroducing the origins of hip-hop is the basis behind the HHS’ National Hip-Hop Trivia Competition in Washington, D.C., scheduled to be recorded in front of a live studio audience in June. Students ages 12 through 17 will put their cultural knowledge to the test by competing individually with the chance to take home cash and other prizes.

However, the bigger reward for Mitchell and her business partner Michael Wiggins is bridging the gap between past and present generations.

“I don’t want to wake up one day and hip-hop is just some ‘theme’ created by the media with no culture, no lineage and no value,” Mitchell said. “That, to me, would do an entire generation a disservice. Hip-hop gave a generation of youth history and identification [and] Hip-Hop Scholars will offer this generation that same opportunity.”

For more on the Hip Hop Scholars program: visit www.hhscholars.org.

(Stephen D. Riley is a staff writer for the Afro American.)


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