On any given week at Henry H. Houston School, you may hear students reading a book out loud, recording a song in the studio or playing instruments in band. And it is not just for fun. Instead, it is a part of the school’s efforts to show students new experiences and to help them achieve in the classroom and out.

“At Houston, we use data to drive instruction,” said principal LeRoy Hall Jr. “We look at our benchmarks and different assessments. We want to use that data and apply it to student learning. We want to make sure that the students’ needs are being met. In the eighth grade, we have a lot of different high schools coming to the school. They discuss some of the things they are looking for in a student.

“We also started a college initiative called ‘Houston We Have Lift Off,’” he added. “We don’t tell students that college is their only option, but we make sure they know that it is a viable option. We expose students to college readiness assemblies from third to eighth grade. When the students get to the sixth grade the assembly intensifies. Academics is the most important element in a student’s life. We want the students at Houston to appreciate the power of learning.”

One popular program at Houston is the Rural Lane Records music production and recording studio program. The program is geared toward middle school students, but students from fourth and fifth grade have signed up to participate also. The program is in the early stages of creating an original album.

“We have music technology lab with 16 iMac computers where the students can do digital music and composing,” said music teacher Ezechial Thurman. “The melody, lyrics and music are written by students. We try to use the power of music for positive change. We recently took the students to the Constitution Center to see various exhibits. Violence in our society triggered a lot of questions in our students after the trip.

“The students created a song based on those questions called ‘One Life Taken, One Life Lost,’” he added. “This will be one of many songs on the album. In this program, music becomes a vehicle for student expression and positive social change. Our number-one concern at Houston is developing students to be ready for real life and the world. We want to give them the opportunities to be creative and take risks. We want to enhance not only their skills academically, but also personally.”

Fifth-grader Samaria Dockery likes being in the music program.

“What I like about the program is that we can make three songs in one day,” Dockery said. “We can then go back and listen to it and make changes if necessary. I sing and play the flute, drums and violin. It’s really a collaborative effort between the students and teachers. The experience has been amazing.”

Fifth-grader Saniyah Dean also likes participating in the music program.

“Being in the music program was a natural fit for me,” Dean. said. “My mom sings and also plays an instrument. I sing and also play the cello, clarinet and violin. All of teachers has been great as far as helping me take my skills musically to the next level.”

Houston has a partnership with LiveConnections, a program that inspires learning and builds community through collaborative music-making.

“We began in the fall with visits two to three times a week with poet and Houston alum Jacob to begin a writing process generating ideas for the album,” said founding director and bridge session curator David Bradley. “Jacob will be working with two classes that will create a book of poetry that will be a companion to the album.

“We’ve been working with Houston for several years,” he added. “This is about now taking our partnership to the next level. Our collaboration with the school includes professional artists and students writing and creating together. Through this project, my hope is that students realize their voice matters and that music can give them a platform to express how they feel.”

In addition to LiveConnections, Houston also has a partnership with Tabor Northern Community Partners (TNCP). One of the innovative practices that TNCP has implemented are the Parent Cafes. The cafes are designed to engage parents in meaningful dialogues about what matters most — their families.

“We’ve been working with Houston for quite some time,” said coordinator Alisha Rollins of Strengthening Families. “The parent cafe is an adult conversation where we focus on five protective factors including social/emotional competency of children, knowledge of parent and child development, social connections, positive social connections, concrete support in times of need and parental resilience.

“The parents already have those protective factors within them, but we just want them to see it,” she added. “We have a guideline for the cafe, but we also differentiate from that as long as we still focus on the five protective factors. We recently did something on parenting together, but not together. How to co-parent without being together. In that cafe, we talked about communication and relationships. The cafe is another way for us to empower the parents and for some to help them stay out of the system.”

chill@phillytrib.com

(215) 893-5716

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