New York

Summer Music Camp at the Manhattan School of Music

Desmond Sam and William Guiracoche in rehearsal for the camp musical, Aladdin Jr. <i>Photo by Brian Hatton</i>.
Desmond Sam and William Guiracoche in rehearsal for the camp musical, Aladdin Jr. Photo by Brian Hatton.

First in a series on free summer opportunities for New York City students. Coming soon: The Summer Arts Institute at Stuyvesant High School.

More than 100 middle school students sit scattered throughout an auditorium at the Manhattan School of Music, clapping and cheering as names of students selected to perform in a concert are announced. Joanne Polk, the Dean of MSM’s Precollege Division, shares a funny moment from one of the students concert sign-up sheet. “When I wrote ‘How long is your piece?'” she says, “You wrote, ‘It depends on how musically I play it.'” She finishes the morning announcements with a reminder about “Twin Day” that coming Friday, and the children stream out of the auditorium, many carrying instrument cases.

Musically talented 6th through 9th graders come from public schools all over the city for the Manhattan School of Music’s Summer Music Camp, where they study ensemble performance, music theory, and ear-training, take lessons in their particular discipline, and explore improvisation, conducting, composition, and more through electives. Mornings are for classes; afternoons are for extracurricular activities like marching band, ballroom dance, and acting classes.

Rebecca Charnow, director of MSM’s Young People’s Division, says the camp is an important opportunity for middle school students, whose schools may have cut arts programs due to an increased focus on testing in mathematics and reading.

In the musical theater class, two dozen students rehearse for a performance of “Aladdin.” The energy in the room is infectious; when the teacher announces that they will start at the beginning of the show and work on the first scenes, Asada Alston, a tiny pigtailed girl with a huge voice, jumps up and down excitedly, clapping her hands. When asked about the camp, Alston, a 10-year-old from Queens who idolizes Alicia Keys, says, “You have to learn everything like that!” She snaps her fingers. “I never stop singing at home.”

Cedric Hills, a slight, blond-haired 11-year-old, stands a head shorter than his stage-daughter, Princess Jasmine, but he speaks his lines with all the gravitas of a sultan. Hills, who will enter the 6th grade at Chelsea’s Clinton School for Writers and Artists, says, “I like to show how I can turn from one character to another, like a transformation. I know I’m me, but I can turn into another character.”

Faculty member Karim Merchant and his student Raldy Vargas during a jazz piano lesson.  By Brian Hatton.

This seriousness about the arts is shared by other students at the camp. Raldy Vargas, an advanced piano student and rising 9th grader at Christopher Columbus High School, is noted at the camp for showing up to his audition carrying a keyboard, just in case the school didn’t provide one. During his weekly one-on-one piano lesson, he works on jazz standard “Take the A Train” with teacher Karim Merchant. Merchant pushes him to strive for more accuracy in his playing, modeling how to practice the fingering for short phrases. Later, when Merchant asks what he’d like to work on, Vargas says, “There’s a song on YouTube I want to learn, it’s technically not jazz but….” He begins playing snatches of the piece. Vargas says that he trained himself to transcribe music that he hears.

The camp directors, Polk and Charnow, say many of the students are in large school programs but have had limited opportunities for regular private music lessons; a few are self-taught. The students auditioned for the camp in January and all are at an intermediate or advanced level of musical ability.

The camp has a 97 percent return rate, according to the directors, and some students go on to attend MSM’s pre-college and college programs.

India Carney, a rising sophomore at LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and the Performing Arts, attended the camp for four years and is back as a counselor in training this summer. “The best part of camp is that I’m surrounded by people who do the same thing as me. It’s impossible to come here with a bad attitude.”

Photos courtesy of the Manhattan School of Music.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede