Soothing through sound

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many students, teachers and school administrators were compelled to make a quick transition from an in-class learning environment to an online one in a matter of weeks. In addition to managing the logistics of such a change, they were confronted with finding ways to assist students on a deeper level and ensuring that their emotional health was being supported as well as their class studies.

Recognizing the importance of routine, Sound Production teacher Sean Harty organized his days to meet with his students daily at the same time they would meet if school was still in session.

Mr. Harty combines the regular subject material with emotional health assistance. He offers students a daily meditational practice as well as a weekly virtual gathering that allows for some creative fun. 

Students begin each class using the Headspace app, which focuses on meditation. This enables the class to spend a few minutes at the start of each meeting with a soundscape meditation to help them if they are having a tough day.

In addition, Mr. Harty encourages students to join a MasterClass, an online education platform with access to pre-recorded lectures by experts in a variety of fields, three times a week. A new topic is discussed each session and provides students with a unique look at different parts of the music/sound industry.

“If my class focuses on the career techniques and skills, the MasterClass will focus on the rest,” Mr. Harty said.

During one recent week, the MasterClass was hosted by award-winning producer Timbaland.

“Other classes will use the MasterClass videos from other teachers such as Christina Aguilera for vocal lessons and Usher teaching performance,” said Mr.  Harty. “We’ll also do other sessions that I will teach that may touch on copyright, business, guitar or any other subject the students would like for me to talk about aside from what we are doing in class.”

There is also a special time set aside each week for students to enjoy time together not focused on curriculum but rather as a way to be creative together.

On Thursdays licensed clinical social worker Yocasta Jiminez, the CEO and founder of Teens Under Construction, a teen mentoring program with locations throughout Westchester County, hosts a Zoom meeting with students.

“Many refer to me as ‘The Hip-Hop Therapist’ as I incorporate the elements of hip-hop into the clinical space,” Ms. Jiminez, who is also known as “Ms. Yogi,” said. “My passion for hip-hop and social work has given me the ability to explore different approaches in working with urban youth.”

Ms. Jiminez first met the students in person when she visited the Sound Production class to give a talk earlier this year.

“I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Harty's students about the importance of addressing personal traumas and identifying what their personal strengths are,” she said. “We discussed several lyrics that students were able to relate to, which help students identify their own struggles in a song. By creating your own lyrics, you have the opportunity to release many of the thoughts you wouldn't share and often suppress, which end up displayed in unpleasant behavior.”

During the Zoom sessions, the group discusses beats and students have the opportunity to submit topics to write about. They then take a few minutes to write lyrics and perform their pieces for one another. During one meeting, Peekskill mayor André Rainey, a hip-hop enthusiast, joined the discussion. During another, Ms. Jiminez said students suggested the rap topic focus on reading.

“I think these types of events provide a safe space where students feel a sense of self and have the opportunity to be vulnerable by sharing their stories without judgment,” Ms. Jiminez. “Students get to have a space they can control. It is their space – we talk their language and provide the structure. These students are amazing.”

These hip hop sessions with Ms. Jiminez provide students with a much needed outlet where their creativity can shine and students have access to a space where they can be themselves.

 “From our first meeting, we decided to make it an open discussion for anyone to join. Students can share a performance in terms of instrumental and/or lyrics, showcase them and we all as a group give constructive criticism,” Mr. Harty said. “It's an optional forum for my students to relax, enjoy the company of their team and network with other people.”