Monday, December 16, 2013


As I was experiencing openings to singing this fall I happened to meet the founding principal of a public school where singing two hours every day anchors the learning curriculum. The kids - and faculty - center on the very instrument that as a senior I'm just coming to enjoy.  

Voice Charter School emerged in Long Island City adjacent to Queensbridge, the largest public housing project in the country. This neighbor lays claim to being the home of Hip-Hop music. For principal Franklin Headley, a major appeal of his workplace is diversity.
While he was working as an adjunct professor at Columbia University in the millennial year 2000 Frank read an article in the New York Times about a program placing people without teaching experience directly in schools, after a few weeks training. He shifted careers to a fourth grade classroom in the South Bronx and fell in love with the kids. There he began a journey in educational reform resonating with a book he still refers to, Kant's The Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785).
Franklin Headley with teachers
Three years later Frank joined New Leaders for New Schools, a national program recruiting people to become principals in high needs areas. He became the assistant principal of an elementary school in Queens. While there he met a group of people at Saint Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan who wanted to start a Choir School. Together they persisted through the intricacies of visualization and bureaucracy to establish the Voice Charter School in 2008 with Kindergarten and First Grade. They've added one grade a year since, toward their eventual complement of Eight. The student body has grown to 540 children who come to school in uniform from 8:00am to 4:30pm every day, which allows extra time for the music program without sacrificing the other subjects.

 In a recent telephone conversation Frank expanded on some of his experiences: 

"Some kids who come to us don't know how to hold a book. They don't know how to open it, they don't understand the concept that when you turn the page there are new ideas, or that there's some continuity of ideas that carry across the pages. We think that singing helps a lot with the fluidity of language."

"They discover a personal instrument, their voice....It's amazing to see them on stage. When you see them every day, what their struggles are, and to see them get up there and sing in a professional manner, really having mastered some material, it's pretty neat....By second grade they're singing harmony. That means that not only are they mastering control of their own body, and their breathing, it means also they've got to listen to others."


"I think that we want most importantly - it's in our mission statement - it's just one word - and that word is 'choice.' We want them to grow up to be people who truly have choice in their lives. And you get choice by having a lot of tools, right?"

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