SCHOOLS | April 20, 2020
How One CPS School has Used Music and Pop Culture to Encourage Students to Learn at Home
Principal Tawana Williams believes that if you want to get her students at Faraday Elementary in East Garfield Park excited about their education, you need to find a hook. So, when she knew students would officially be starting remote learning, she quickly consulted Ms. Sheryl San Juaquin, her third- and fourth-grade teacher, to brainstorm creative ways to promote it.
Having already produced a music video at the beginning of the school year encouraging students to keep their attendance high, Ms. San Juaquin decided it was time to move in front of the camera and promote remote learning by writing her own rap. Using two popular rap songs as her inspiration, she got to work creating clever rhymes such as: “This is a tough time; we’ll get through it and still be on top / But we need your help; the learning absolutely cannot stop!” While it might seem like a big undertaking to create a music video, Ms. San Juaquin says her creative approach to teaching makes projects like this one come naturally to her.
“I used to write poems and stories, so when something hits me, it just clicks,” she said. “Writing is something I enjoy, so when I heard the songs, all I had to do was find the hook and then I was able to come up with the lyrics for the different verses.”
Ms. San Juaquin’s music video quickly spread between members of her school community on social media. Her colleagues and families thought it was “the bomb.” On top of that, she says it not only made her students look forward to remote learning but also strengthened her relationship with them by letting them see her creativity.
“I’m very passionate about teaching, so a lot of times in the classroom I’m in a more serious mode trying to accomplish many different things for my students,” she said. “When my students saw this video, they were able to see my creative side and know that I have two sides to me.”
Principal Williams knows that Ms. San Juaquin’s ability to be a “one-woman show” for her students happens so naturally because she cares for them so much. Over the course of the first week of remote learning, the team at Faraday has tried to keep the video’s momentum going by finding new ways to engage students each day. Near the beginning of the week, teachers and staff focused on encouraging students to reach out to their friends and let them know that it was time to learn. As the week progressed, Principal Williams started doing surprise pop-ins to different classrooms and promising rewards for classrooms with strong attendance. Each new idea was part of a larger strategy to keep motivation and engagement high.
“Everyone at Faraday is helping out and supporting each other, even from the comfort of our own homes without our students,” said Principal Williams. “With this crisis, the plug was pulled from everyone’s bathtub at the same time; now, we have to work together to make sure our students’ learning isn’t going down the drain.”
And, as remote learning continues to move in the right direction for Faraday students, Ms. San Juaquin and Principal Williams both say that having to approach teaching and learning in a new way has given them a different perspective on what it means to work in education.
“Realizing that the joy of our school building comes from the noise of having students walking around and learning in their classrooms has opened our eyes to so many things,” said Principal Williams. “When we’re all together again, I know that we will form stronger relationships by communicating with and looking out for each other, and, of course, valuing technology in the classroom that much more.”
Now that an entirely remote approach will close out the current school year, Ms. San Juaquin says that the biggest takeaway is that even though no one in CPS has experienced anything like this before, schools like Faraday can keep moving forward by putting students first. As she says in her rap: “Teachers working hard to make sure you all stay smart / You’re still in our thoughts and, of course, you’re still in our hearts!”