By Grace Kuikman
“I don’t make songs for free, I make ’em for freedom.”
Chance the Rapper, “Blessings” (Coloring Book, 2016)
Chance the Rapper knows Chicago, Chicago youth and Chicago Public Schools. And he knows that the arts can make lessons “sing” for young students.
In 2017, Chance the Rapper earmarked a generous gift, called the New Chance: Arts & Literature Fund, to underwrite three years of fine arts programming in selected CPS schools. Esmond Elementary, 1865 W. Montvale Ave., is one of those schools.
The grant enabled Esmond principal Dr. Angela Tucker to hire Sondra Davis to teach music and performance arts at the 265-student, K-8 neighborhood school.
Last year Davis, a 16-year veteran CPS teacher and adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute and administrator of their Community Music School, began teaching general music education with an arts integration to enhance the core curriculum, choir and drama at Esmond. She sees all of the students for instruction at least once a week, and also works with students on choir and drama performances.
Davis enthusiastically embraces the vision for the arts developed by principal Tucker. That vision is to use the arts to enhance student learning, tapping the children’s “hunger and thirst” for the arts, Davis said.
A centerpiece of Davis’s program is the series of school-wide assemblies that combine history with the arts, which was kicked off last year with a Tribute to Motown and followed this winter by a Tribute to Black History. Coming up this spring is a Tribute to Jazz. A Talent Showcase is also being planned.
According to Davis, Dr. Tucker invites the community in to enjoy the assemblies, bringing school families and neighbors together to showcase student talent and share in the excitement for lessons that are personified in the performances.
Davis, who holds master’s degrees in vocal performance and music education, said music is excellent for students because it is “a way to bridge the gap socially” and in other ways, and because you need discipline to learn music. Davis, now working on her doctorate in educational leadership, is already seeing how the performing arts program is building self-esteem among the Esmond students while also supporting learning in academic areas.
Another intrinsic part of the performing arts program underwritten by the New Chance funding is the Esmond School band program taught by is Roxanne Stevenson, a professor at Chicago State University.
Grammy Award-winning music artist and community activist Chance the Rapper was born and raised in Chicago. He recorded his first full length mixtape while a senior at Jones College Prep High School in 2011, and within the year started earning recognition and awards for his music. He has performed throughout the world. Through his Social Works Chicago organization, Chance the Rapper supports initiatives designed to empower young people through arts, education and civic engagement.
According to Davis, some of the benefits of the arts programming funded by New Chance include “enlarging students’ capacity of learning, promoting their ability to express themselves, [allowing] them to make real world connections and [broadening] their scope of engagement to encompass the ideas and talents of their peers.”
Or, as the Social Works Chicago website says, “To inspire creativity, to build dreams, to let you be you.”