Aki Kurose Middle School Academy 2013

Shortly after our last summer work training program with the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration we connected with Neighborhood House (who has been serving diverse and marginalized communities in Seattle since the 1900s) to start our first after school program in partnership with Seattle Public Schools. In January 2013 we launched our Bars and Beats pilot program at Aki Kurose Middle School Academy, located in our home neighborhood of Rainier Valley in Southeast Seattle, proclaimed by the U.S. Census Bureau as “the most diverse zip code in America,” with 59 languages spoken in the district.

With a school population of 97% students of color, 87% Free or Reduced Lunch, 20% English Language Learners and Special Education, and a 20% mobility rate, the goal of Totem Star is to use our Bars & Beats music production program as a conduit to increase reading, writing, and mathematics skills, as well as tackling social-emotional development issues. By providing quality arts education instruction in line with the Seattle Public Schools K-12 Arts Plan, Totem Star strives to fill the gaps in access and achievement.

Totem Star worked with 20+ students from January through May 2013, with student ethnicities including African American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latino, and East African. Students expressed their artistic creativity through programming beats, writing lyrics and sharing with the group in a public speaking format, recording in a studio setting with a digital audio workstation, and producing and starring in a music video for their original song “Let Your Light Shine,” soon to be released on YouTube.

Rising to the top I got my own feeling / I’ve got a chance to get to the top / Feeling so excited I’m gonna work / I’m gonna play and have so much fun,” exclaims Anthony Johnson as he dunks a basketball over Totem Star video production manager Kizamu Tsutakawa in the music video. “Let your light shine / Be heard don’t back down / Show who you truly are,” sings Lashaiah Dickerson in the hook, reminding her peers that anything is possible through hard work, perseverance, and a positive attitude.