By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
The students at IS 10 (Horace Greeley Intermediate School) in Astoria learn not just from their teachers, but also from children from around the world.
The children’s choir Voices of Haiti performed a short concert at the Astoria school Tuesday, Dec. 11. After the performance, the Haitian students and members of the Horace Greeley Middle School choir enjoyed lunch together, and asked each other questions about their homes and singing techniques.
“When I was young I always wanted to travel around the world and meet people that spoke different languages,” said 12-year-old Horace Greeley Middle School choir member Katana Jeffery. “I just rediscovered that dream.”
It was the Haitian students’ first time in New York and, despite the diversity of the neighborhood, the first time for many Astoria students to meet peers from Haiti.
Voices of Haiti was created by the Andrea Boccelli Foundation and the Foundation St. Luc. The St. Luc choir program provides musical training and “comprehensive education in a classroom setting” to children from the most vulnerable parts of Haiti.
The choir traveled to New York City to sing alongside Andrea Boccelli, who is performing at Madison Square Garden tonight, Dec. 13.
“If there are any other groups I would love to have them,” said Horace Greeley Principal Clemente Lopes. “Music connects them.”
According to Lopes, when he arrived at the middle school in March of 2005, the state of arts education was dire. There was no staff music or drama teacher and the school was contracting outside arts instructors to come in once a week to provide lessons.
Since then, the arts program at Horace Greeley has improved, according to Lopes. The middle school now employs three full-time arts teachers, one for music, drama and the visual arts. Amanda Stallone has worked as the staff music teacher and choir instructor at Horace Greeley for the last three years. She has doubled the size of the choir, from 20 in 2015 to its current 41 members.
The chances of the arts surviving in public schools seems to be increasing. According to an article from Chalkbeat, the number of arts teachers in New York City schools has hit a 12-year high. The number of Queens middle schools now offering arts education has gone up by four percent since last year, according to a report from the New York City Department of Education. On Dec. 12, New York City Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza announced a $17 million increase in arts education spending.
But Horace Greeley Intermediate School is lucky.
The opportunity to host “Voices of Haiti” came as an unexpected surprise, according to Lopes. The school was selected, along with 49 other NYC public schools, by the nonprofit Sing for Hope, to receive a free piano and art curriculum. According to Sing for Hope’s website the curriculum includes a monthly online teacher resource guide including articles, lesson plans, student contests and the opportunity to host additional workshops led by Sing for Hope Artist Partners.
Sing for Hope works to bring arts education to New York City public schools and funds public art installations across the nation. The nonprofit currently works in 10 percent of New York City public schools, according to their website.
Sing for Hope delivered the piano to Horace Greeley Middle School on Nov.1 of this year, and the organization asked Lopes if the school would be interested in hosting “Voices of Haiti.” Lopes immediately said yes.
“I want them (the students) to see that there is a path into the arts. It just doesn’t have to be about math and science,” said Lopes. “There are options.”