Naylor Students Make Beautiful Music with MAPS Program

Naylor Students Make Beautiful Music with MAPS Program

It’s not uncommon to hear students putting words to a beat in the cafeteria or hallways of any school. But at Naylor School, the 7th and 8th graders are turning poems into songs as part of the Music and Poetry Synchronized (MAPS), an enrichment program.

MAPS teaches 7th through 12th grade students from different geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds to write poetry and music in preparation for a public concert at the end of the program term. Each MAPS class takes place through a partnership with two different schools in two different states. The urban school creates poetry, and the suburban or rural school helps to turn the poetry into music.

In this case, the urban school is Naylor, and the suburban school is U-32 Middle and High School in Montpelier, Vermont. At Naylor, in Music Educator Laura Gray’s class, ten Hartford students are paired with 20 students from U-32. They first met in November 2019, and this month, they came together again to continue their collaboration.

The program runs throughout a full year, with urban-based students creating poetry from their life stories in the fall semester, and the suburban students using these poems as lyrics for the songs they write during the spring semester.

Naylor Music Educator Laura Gray talks to the MAPS group.

“It’s a great resource for our kids,” said Gray. “This is a good way to offer them something more enriching than a typical academic day.”

On Feb. 11, after the U-32 students took a tour of Naylor, they convened in Gray’s music class. To recap their progress thus far, Gray projected a few of the poems that had been turned into videos by Naylor students on a monitor.  A couple of them had been set to music. Poem themes ranged from serious topics like bullying and violence to more mundane ones like pencils.

Next, the students from both schools reconnected through icebreaker activities, asking each other get-to-know-you questions. Then they broke up into small groups of 5-6 to continue progress on their poems. Gray explained that each small group would develop two poems into a song with the goal of performing them in the spring.

In a small recording room, one group had combined two poems into one performance that included both song and rap. “In Hartford,” by Alicia Pacheco, says:

In Hartford, they think we’re ghetto

Maybe cause the way we push on a pedal

Faster than anyone can see

This is how we be!

Just to make a crowd

This is how we be

Now say it loud!

While Pacheco sang, another student, Oralee Hamilton rapped, and the others shook instruments like tambourines, claves, maracas, and rain sticks to complement the beat. Gray recorded the music in an audio file.

The plan is for the students to create nine songs in all in time for a spring performance. Student work will be recorded, and the finished product shared during the Naylor Arts Festival in May.

Students from Naylor and U-32 work in small groups.

Gray and MAPS Co-Founder Tom Willits would like to expand the program to other Hartford students and schools. Based in Massachusetts, MAPS currently runs programs in four states, including New York and Vermont. The organization has a middle and high school program.

The MAPS team believes that educational experiences infused with the arts help students develop critical and creative skills, improve school attendance, score higher on achievement tests, and convey complex feelings and intent, among other benefits.

It’s an example of the quality instruction that is a district Teaching & Learning priority. Through music, it also adds to the school culture and climate that makes all students feel valued.