‘I Am Music Project’ brings tools for teaching to Kent Phoenix Academy | Video

The activities are all part of the new "I Am Music Project" course at Kent Phoenix Academy, the Kent School District's alternative high school on the East Hill.

Students Landon Yeomans

Students Landon Yeomans

Ben Phanivong walks right into the Kent Phoenix Academy classroom and starts to play the piano. Landon Yeomans shows up in class carrying his guitar.

Moments later, Phanivong sings a song written by fellow student Hayley Turner. Yeomans later plays a piece on his guitar that another student records on a mobile studio.

The activities are all part of the new “I Am Music Project” course at the Kent School District’s alternative high school on the East Hill.

“I like that we make music and collaborate as a group,” said Phanivong, 18, of Covington, who plans to graduate next year. “We have no music program at the school.”

The 4-year-old school serves 368 students in the grades 9-12. Unlike traditional high schools, it does not offer choirs, bands or sports teams. Students can participate in those programs at the high school in their home neighborhood, but schedules and transportation make that difficult for most.

Kent Phoenix Academy principal Merrilee Lyle believes the trial music class has gone well.

“A number of students who are behind in their credits come to our school,” Lyle said. “Some of them have been out of school. This gives them something

they are interested in and is more of a draw.”

Volunteer instructor Danny Pearson, president of the 100 Black Men of Greater Seattle, started the class in March. He presented the program to Lyle and Kent Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas and received the approval from each to teach the class.

Pearson, who lives in Auburn, said he would drive past the school during his commute and see kids walking to school and also see a lot of gang signs in the neighborhood. He decided the class would be a good way to reach out to the students to stay involved in school as well as learn about the music industry.

“Reading, science, math and engineering we take those four components and focus on them through the music program,” said Pearson, who brings a computer software recording program with him as part of his mobile studio. “They’re having fun and recording.”

The 10 students in the class work together to write lyrics. They also learn about business contracts and how to use actual recording studios, where you only have so much time to record a song.

“I’ve learned I can’t procrastinate,” said Turner, 18, a junior from Fairwood. “You pay money to record in a studio and you better practice before you get there.”

Pearson used to work as a music producer and promoter. He now operates 100 Black Men of Greater Seattle, which reaches out to offer mentoring services to youth in middle schools, high schools and incarcerated facilities.

All of the costs of the “I Am Music Project” at Kent Phoenix Academy were covered by the 100 Black Men of Greater Seattle as well as sponsors, including Washington State Mentors, a nonprofit group that supports youth mentoring programs.

Jeremi Madden, 17, of Kent, a junior, certainly enjoys the chance to attend a music class.

“I like that fact that everybody can express themselves through music,” said Madden, who hopes to become a producer or song writer. “I’m able to do what I love. I love music. It’s my passion.”

Lyle said the course initially was set up to run for six weeks but the students enjoyed it so much Pearson agreed to extend the class to nearly 12 weeks.

“We’re looking at that possibility,” Lyle said about whether to offer the class again in the fall. “With the budget cuts, we are not able to pay for this. But we hope he (Pearson) can get support again for the program.”

Pearson said he would like to bring the course back to Kent Phoenix Academy.

“We had requests to do it in the summer,” Pearson said. “But volunteers, like myself, we need a break. But we hope to do it in the fall.”

The students want “I Am Music Project” to return.

“This school is mainly about getting credits and preparing for your future,” said Turner, who enjoys singing and writing songs. “There are no sports teams or choirs. It’s great to have this opportunity.”


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