Tune in Kids, we are going to Rap 'bout the Government

Bob Barlow, teacher and musician, uses music as an efficient way to teach children.

Pulling students away from their beloved iPods, iPhones and other technology may seem like a daunting task, but Hudson Valley teacher Bob Barlow and Grammy-winning Dan Einbender have found the secret to accomplish it; music.

Origins of shyness

Bob Barlow teaches Pine Tree Elementary's fifth graders just a few skips away from the classroom he once sat in attempting to learn and remember the same information he now teaches. A singer/songwriter in his free time, Mr. Barlow never strays far from his guitar. One particular day he noticed his students were tuning him out. Instinctively, he picked up his guitar and strummed a few chords.

Music makes a difference

Suddenly, he saw his students' heads raise. He could feel their eyes on him. To his amazement, he had their undivided attention. The rest is history! Barlow now teaches history and a host of other subjects through song.

These days Barlow's guitar leads students through the branches of government and through multiplication. Students rap, sing, and write lyrics, enthusiastically applying classroom material to their tunes.

They forget they aren't supposed to like school, and they begin to have an easier time remembering the facts and material that once eluded their memories. Music has become so entwined with Barlow's class that he cannot imagine teaching without it.

Art trends

Making an impact on society

In addition to academic gains, music plays into his students' desire to reach out to those impacted by the tragic earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010. The lessons Barlow taught about the natural disaster turned into song-writing, singing and recording a song on CD's students then sold to parents, friends and members of the community.

All proceeds were sent to a relief organization to help those affected by the earthquake. Seeing his students dissolve economic and social barriers, becoming excited about learning, and realizing a sense of unity through music is, "just beautiful" for Barlow to see. While Barlow tunes students' minds inside a classroom, an after-school program in Beacon has other lucky children singing with Grammy winners Dan Einbender and Pete Seeger.

Learning life lessons
Seven years ago, a grant provided by the Hudson River Department of Enviromental Conservation gave Beacon students an opportunity to take a field trip to the Hudson River. Einbender was hired to take the students on this trip. Their teacher, he noted, used music as, "carrots." The teacher played on their love of music to incorporate song into lessons.

A follow-up visit to their classroom made it clear these kids were more than casually interested in music. With their teacher's blessing, Einbender returned to the classroom, accompanied by his friend Pete Seeger, an iconic American folk singer and Hudson Valley resident. Together, the duo sang with the kids and for the past seven years their voices have continued teaching children in the Hudson Valley valuable lessons through music.

Make music magical

Music allows for fun

Today, Einbender and Seeger sing with the Rivertown Kids after-school program. Kids write and sing songs about a range of topics, including nature, African history, and pirates. Einbender, a former music therapist, notes music not only helps kids express complicated feelings, but enhances academic skills by allowing for fun, stimulating methods to memorize information by feeling as if they own that information.
Kids take pride and joy in artistically expressing themselves, and the information learned becomes a part of these feelings. Environmental and social topics are discussed and woven into song as these students in grades three through eight rock out to the talent and infectious nature of their mentors.

Shoot for the stars
The kids followed the lead of Einbender and Seeger all the way to the Grammys. Their CD, "Tomorrow's Children," won a Grammy for Best Musical Album. One song sings about "Solartopia," and describes the environmental impact humanity has had on
our world.

Endless opportunities
The benefits of coupling music with education are boundless: these Hudson Valley students exemplify this concept. Music has allowed them to cross social borders, unite as a community, take pride in their work and enhance their academic ability.
With toes tapping to the beat, the kids recall the songs they wrote, singing the information and correctly filling in the blanks on their tests. Report cards improved, smiles emerged and parents and teachers alike have something
to sing about.

Barbara Allen lives in the Hudson Valley with her four children and boyfriend. She is actively involved with organizations serving our troops and their families.