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Your Name and Title: James Miles, Professor

School or Organization Name: Urban Arts Partnership

Co-Presenter Name(s): Jamel Mims, Michael Wiggins

Area of the World from Which You Will Present: NY, USA

Language in Which You Will Present: English

Target Audience(s): High School History Teachers

Short Session Description (one line): Using original Hip Hop music and culturally responsive pedagogy to engage teachers and students in educative practices aimed at closing the achievement gap and building global citizens.

Full Session Description (as long as you would like): 

The USA seemingly has everything it needs to improve student academic outcomes for all of its children, but has consistently failed to solve the host of problems that bedevil our public school systems. Increasingly, our public schools rely on standardized exams to measure the effectiveness of students and teachers. For students who are unprepared, these standardized exams function as roadblocks to graduation. For teachers, the tests serve as an ineffectual assessment of their students and take away the individuality of their facilitation. Choice has been taken out of the classroom leaving both, students and teachers, feeling powerless with no stake in the educational experience. As soon as we ignore the culture of the classroom, students become disinterested in the culture of education. The teachers have lost the power to educate, and our students are increasingly less informed about what is happening in their communities, the nation, and the world.  

Over the past decade in New York City, the mayor and other public officials have piloted new measures in education, supported new school models, changed evaluation protocols holding teachers more accountable, and funded numerous educational initiatives to turn around failing schools, but data shows that our schools and our students are still in serious trouble. These measures happen at the expense of the arts.  In fact, the NYC Department of Education’s 2013 Annual Arts in Schools Report shows a 47% decline in arts instruction from the previous year. Schools are run like a homogenous business ignoring the needs and interests of the student body. With the departure of art in schools, students are losing the stage to express themselves, collaborate, and build long lasting relationships. 

This is not exclusive to New York or the USA, globally, the arts have been in decline, although when employers are asked what they seek in future employees, a global IBM study of the top 1,709 CEOs reported “All of them said the top skill is creativity and innovation.”


The need for an innovative approach to education has never been greater or more urgent. Urban Arts Partnership proposes Fresh Ed, a Hip-Hop infused curricular approach to solve the persistent problems of academic failure by promoting literacy through storytelling and music, thereby helping young people pass standardized exams and graduate. Hip -Hop is the language and music of the world. On every continent, hip hop music is the voice of young people. By acknowledging the culture of youth and building off of it in the classroom, students become engaged, thereby increasing student achievement


Urban Arts Partnership’s (UAP) mission is to close the achievement gap through arts-integrated education programs deployed as targeted academic interventions. Founded in 1991, UAP has established itself as New York’s largest and fastest growing arts education organization; this year alone we directly serve over 100 schools, 12,000 students, and 450 teachers.


UAP programs are framed within a youth development model that supports social/emotional learning, increases levels of student engagement and prepares young people for college and career. UAP’s programs unite the arts and academics to give students an opportunity to succeed and definitively break the cycle of poverty.


Urban Arts Partnership’s Fresh Ed pilot program builds on our work helping students who have previously failed standardized exams, to 'beat' the test. Adapted from our successful Fresh Prep program, Fresh Ed uses culturally responsive hip hop pedagogy to engage young people in their academic classes, help them learn test-taking skills, and build the confidence they need to successfully pass standardized exams on the way to graduation.


By exploiting young people’s love of music, Fresh Ed harnesses the power of mnemonics to help young people learn and retain content-related vocabulary. Fresh Ed’s social emotional framework bolsters confidence, helps them utilize their own intellectual assets, and builds up the critical thinking and writing skills they need to pass standardized exams. By accessing students' prior knowledge and discussing subjects they are interested in, Fresh Ed is able to incorporate curriclular content into our lesson plans.

UAP piloted Fresh Prep in 2009 to students that had previously failed their Global Regents, as much as five times. The results were astounding. After participating in Fresh Prep, 79% of the students passed and 100% of the students with special needs passed. One student that had dropped out, enrolled in our course, passed, earned his high school diploma, and enrolled in college the same day. The pilot program was only 29 days long. Since 2009, we have expanded Fresh Prep to include state standards aligned Regents content for US History, ELA, and Math. We have been able to serve over one thousand students by engaging, enlivening, and informing them so that they pass the tests in an arts-based and 'Fresh’ way.


Fresh Ed is the next generation of Fresh Prep. Geared toward the needs of younger teens, Fresh Ed improves middle-school students’ English Language Arts and music proficiency through the use of hip-hop, process drama, and positive elements of youth popular culture. The teaching artists that work with Fresh Ed come from all over the world and work in different artistic disciplines. Students may work with a teaching artist that has travelled the world performing hip hop music, a different teaching artist from Cuba that sings songs of revolution, or a teaching artist from Chicago that is a relatively famous star on PBS. Whatever the case, students are exposed to a wide array of cultures and experiences that they were not privy to, prior to working in a Fresh Ed classroom.

Not just the students benefit from our program; the Fresh Ed staff are working with the newest trends in arts education and bring in new ideas and practices to the classroom teachers. The teachers find new ways to reach the students and approach the content. In addition, the teachers are able to work with pedagogues from NYU, CCNY, Pace University and others so that there is true collaboration in and out of the classroom.


NPR recently reported that students who were successful in elementary school are in danger of losing momentum in middle school, when standardized exams become more high stakes. Common thinking in the field of education is that middle school is a crucial period in students' lives. We assert that by using the arts to personalize learning, build positive student-teacher relationships, and ground the work in revision and reflection, students will be more likely to achieve their goals.


Fresh Ed revolves around the writing and recording of student-generated songs addressing recently adopted Common Core standards, and featuring explications of core academic content concepts, skills and understandings. A classroom’s completed Fresh Ed catalog includes both “Classic Tracks” -- songs created by UAP professional musicians -- and “Fresh Tracks,” songs created by students during in-class work. Fresh Ed also incorporates the use of process drama in which teachers and teaching artists are 'in role' as a literary or historical figures. The students are 'in role' as reporters, economists, jurists, and other professionals. The playmaking allows the student participants to explore history, literature, math, and science from the inside and ask questions to those major players, as experts, not as students. Process drama expert, Cecily O'Neill has stated, "students know how to be children, but they must learn how to be adults," and her work encourages teachers to use role-play, and give students the “mantle of the expert”. Fresh Ed relies on the idea that playful instruction can help raise levels of student engagement. Our approach honors the individual students' prior knowledge and cultural frames of reference. By combining standards-aligned instruction with original hip hop music, games and role-play, learning becomes and interactive experience where students are empowered, respected and more likely to do the required work.


 "When learning is structured like a game, students intuitively understand the cumulative nature of learning. They’re motivated to master a compounding sequence of skills." (KQED, 2014)


Fresh Ed gives teachers new ways to engage their students, and provides students with multiple pathways to success. By providing students with opportunities to write and record songs that they can use to study academic content, we break the mold of traditional learning—providing formerly disconnected youth with tools and skills that they can use in other areas.

Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session:



Twitter: @freshprep

Promo Video:  https://vimeo.com/60639983

Teaser Video: http://voice.adobe.com/v/PNNWvIRMw7q

Views: 200


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Replies to This Discussion

This looks like a great presentation. However, would it be possible to edit your proposal and add language that ties directly to our mission statement? Perhaps you'd want to add emphasis to the culturally responsive aspects to your program?


Lucy Gray

Conference Co-Chair

Just a quick reminder that if you are planning to revise your proposed session, please do this by November 15th. Send me an email when you have done so, and I’ll be happy to review it again.


Lucy Gray

Conference Co-Chair


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