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Drumming at Thacker Avenue Elementary

By Shana H. Rafalski, Principal
Thacker Avenue Elementary School for International Studies


Drumming at Thacker Avenue Elementary School for International Studies

I can still remember the first time I heard “Jana the Drum Lady” drumming with a group of students. There was a feeling deep in my chest as I heard the droning beat of the Djembes and I was immediately mesmerized. It was easy to come to the conclusion that this was something the students at my school needed to be exposed to. Since then I have seen first hand just how valuable the experience can be for children in building their self-esteem, while cooperating within a group which requires them to concentrate on counting beats and following patterns. The shared experience is something I have seen grow in many schools and I consider it an essential part of the total program we offer our students. We are trying to teach international-mindedness by living our mission statement “The Thacker Avenue Elementary School for International Studies community is committed to academic excellence within a safe, supportive and enriching environment focused on mutual respect and inquiry-based learning” everyday

Drumming at Thacker Avenue Elementary School for International Studies

When I was first asked to write about my perspective of having drumming in an elementary school, I went straight to my students and led them in a writing lesson about why they thought it was important for them. They assisted me in coming up with several valid reasons why it is so important. They expressed how drumming is important to them because it helps them express themselves. One student was quoted as saying, “Drums help us express our inner peace.” Drumming is a way to build their self-esteem by performing in front of an audience. They said that the audience gives them confidence because they respect them when they perform, cheer and take pictures. They also expressed that it helps them overcome their fear of performing.

As a principal, it is important to make sure students are actively engaged in learning experiences every day. Drumming exemplifies a ‘hands-on” experience. Our students compared the beats and the patterns in drumming to puzzles in math. When Jana comes, she doesn’t just drum, she teaches the history of the drums and what they were used for and the words to foreign songs. She teaches that the drums were used to communicate and the songs have strong messages like “welcome friends”. There are also fun songs to help remember the beat like chanting “I can drum, you can drum” or about “cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes”. When one of the teachers was planning a summer trip to Tanzania, she made the comment that she did not know any Swahili. We quickly reminded her that she could wish her new foreign friends well by saying “Funga Alafia”, the words to a song we learned drumming.

Drum Magic has become a staple at our monthly Family Involvement Events. Our families look forward to participating in a Drum Circle with their children and it is one of the reasons our events are so well attended. It is always the most lively area on campus because everyone knows they are there. The beat of the drums always draws a crowd and when the music takes its hold, it is not unusual to see drummers or audience members get in the middle of the circle to dance. On the occasion when we took our drummers to perform before a school board meeting, a crowd of onlookers quickly formed around the children and the drum circle soon attracted the superintendent, district staff and board members to sit and drum. It has a magical quality most find hard to resist!

Drumming at Thacker Avenue Elementary School for International Studies

Teachers and staff have come to expect that we will spend time at the opening of a new school year and to close each one out in a drum circle. It is a time to come together as a faculty for team building, fun and to cleansing our minds. The ritual of starting and ending our year in the same way brings balance and certainly excitement to these hectic times of the year.

We are trying to build whole children who are exposed to a variety of experiences in all pedagogies including the arts. Drumming provides our students with exposure to a timeless international art form and historical way to communicate. Drumming brings people together. Drumming gives students power. Drumming makes everyone fell like they are an important member of a group working together toward a common goal within a non-threatening and fun setting. One student said it the best , “You have two arms to beat the drum and two legs to jump and dance.”


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