The fourth graders in Madolyn Accola’s class at the Voice Charter School on Thursday sat on a rug, slowly chanting sounds that made the room sound more like a monastery than a music classroom.
“Ta-tuuu, ta-tuuu, ta-tu-te-ta,” the students said in unison. “Ta-tu-te-ta-tuuu, taa taa.”
The sounds, known as rhythm syllables, are a part of everyday life for Voice students, who begin learning them in kindergarten and continue daily music classes through middle school. Reciting the syllables is a cornerstone of a Hungarian method, called Kodaly, that trains students to be able to perform music on sight.
The technique is also one way the school works to boost its young students’ language acquisition, especially among the English language learners who make up 18 percent of Voice’s student population, compared to 14 percent citywide. That’s what brought Chancellor Carmen Fariña to the Long Island City charter school for a 90-minute visit on Thursday morning.
“To me, it’s not just about the singing,” Fariña said. “It’s how the singing is used.”
Though the de Blasio administration has had a contentious relationship with the city charter school sector, Fariña has made regular visits to some of the city’s 197 charter schools. Voice represents the type of charter school that Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have especially warmed to: usually small, unaffiliated with a large charter management organization like Success Academy or KIPP, sometimes unionized, and often operating in private space. The schools also tend to be on good terms with local elected officials and community leaders.
“They’re embedded into the community,” State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan said of Voice during the visit, noting the school’s relationship with a service organization across the street serving incarcerated women and children.
The school is also performing well academically. Seventy percent of Voice’s students were proficient on last year’s math exams and 39 percent were proficient on the English exams, scores that ranked it among the city’s top-performing charter schools. Among more than 60 schools unaffiliated with a charter school network, Voice ranked second in math.
Fariña has said her school visits also serve as search missions for innovations that could be shared with other schools. After seeing six classrooms during her visit to Voice, she said the school’s approach to music instruction was a potential model for district schools.
“In some of our schools, we have music for two grades or after school,” Fariña said. “This is very much incorporated in the whole school day.”
But Headley, who was part of the city’s inaugural Teaching Fellows class in 2000, noted that he left the Department of Education after eight years as a teacher and assistant principal because the school he wanted to open wouldn’t have been possible as a district school.
“There wasn’t a way in the New York City district school schedule where it was possible to have music every day,” Headley said. The charter model then proved useful in other ways, he said, such as giving teachers more preparation time each day.
Still, Fariña believed that schools could learn from Voice, whose early grades are co-located in a school building with P.S. 111, and said she’d like the school to join her Learning Partners program. Officials have said that recommendations from a Fariña-headed working group tasked with coming up with recommendations for de Blasio to improve school space-sharing will be released soon.
“I think it’s really, really important that schools like this thrive and do well,” Fariña said after the visit.