It’s often said that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. If so, I heard self-advocacy’s future leaders in rare form earlier this spring in Coon Rapids High School, as they made a recording of a rap about leadership. Crowded around the microphone that I brought in, fourteen students rapped, chanted, whispered, sang and shouted out their messages of power.
I know my rights, I know I’m free.
I know I can be assertive when I need to be. With an L, with an E, with an A, with a D–Check out me, ‘cause I’m a leader.
The rap is part of a new leadership curriculum resource, I Am A Leader, produced by St. Paul-based Advocating Change Together. I Am a Leader guides classrooms through a series of 10 lessons, each with several classroom exercises, group projects, and homework assignments. From “knowing your rights,” to “assertiveness,” to “feelings,” to “working with others,” the units are designed to build skills of leadership. Coon Rapids High is one of the first schools in the area to use these new materials. Over the past year, the school has interspersed its regular curriculum with sections of the new ten-part series.
Special education teacher Betsy Detlefsen said the class uses the rap a lot. “The students love it. They’ve even developed a move to go with it.” Teacher Jodi Gadient added, “This format is a good, repetitive way for students to internalize the important messages.” Each lesson closes with a new verse for students to work on. Most of the students had clearly memorized all the verses for this week’s recording. Even so, large sheets with words were held up during the recording by classroom aides Jenny Tjader, Trudi Snyder, and Heather Darling, just in case.
The new curriculum has drawn participation from adults outside the classroom. One parent created a background CD for the rap. The class can use the CD as accompaniment while they perform the words. As the CD’s gentle rhythms pulse beneath the student’s voices, the listener is subtly reminded of the collaboration between classroom and community.
Other parents have been pleased with the curriculum, citing results they’ve noticed at home. “It’s been fun to see what my daughter brings home,” said parent Kathy Sanders. “One day, Jenny came home talking about role-plays. She was practicing aggressive, assertive and passive communication. It’s wonderful to see her expand her awareness of these choices as to how to behave in order to get what she wants in life.”
The chapter on disability laws has also made an impact. Detlefsen said, “We divided the class into two groups and walked around the school noticing all the changes our school has gone through because of recent disability laws.” Indeed, Coon Rapids High School has many features to notice: ramps, automatic doors, support staff, whole departments and specific adaptations to accommodate their many students who are hard of hearing. “This particular activity has continued to generate lots of talk,” said Detlefsen. “Now on field trips, our students are pointing out and noticing changes in and around town, features mandated because of disability laws like the ADA, IDEA, and Section 504.”
After the recording session had ended, all of the students except one went back to their desks and resumed their other work. One young man asked if I needed help packing. I asked him to go and disassemble my sound equipment and pack it in the box. Off he went while I spoke with the teachers. A few minutes later he came back with the stuff and a final question about how best to pack one particular item. With so much unprompted courtesy and service, I left feeling confident that the next generation of leaders is indeed emerging. As I walked out the door, the class called out a big THANK YOU all together.
For more information about the I Am a Leader Curriculum, contact Advocating Change Together at 651-641-0297.