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Press: African-American history taught through music at Haledon Public School

HALEDON — The students made drums out of plastic buckets and marimbas out of cardboard tubes.

The school’s gymnasium was made a concert hall, while the seventh-grade class was turned into a spellbound audience.

But, the eighth-graders’ most notable feat on Friday morning was turning themselves into entertainers, historians and — in the case of one student — a rap princess.

The borough’s K-8 public school was on the receiving end of a $10,000 grant to bring on a professional percussionist to work with eighth-graders for three months to teach them how music has evolved through various stages of African-American history.

“It helped us to kind of connect to the period of slaves, and how they made music on the plantations,” said Ashley González, 13, whose solo rap capped the hourlong concert.

Hector Morales, the musician, visited American History classes once per week, since the beginning of January — a total of 20 days — to get the students ready for Friday’s performance.

“Music isn’t isolated,” said Morales, 44. “Music is borne out of people’s experiences, which is history.”

Ryan Morgan, the history teacher, said it was a worthwhile project.

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“I thought it was an excellent way to engage our students,” Morgan said. “They learned history through art and took part in an activity with historical relevance.”

Financing came from the Artists in Education Residency Grant Program, run through a partnership of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Young Audiences Arts for Learning of New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania.

It was the third time the school received a grant through the program. Hallway murals were created for the two previous opportunities, most recently in 2017 when graphic novelist Kevin C. Pyle worked with fifth-graders.

Jacqueline Knox, arts education program manager for Young Audiences, said Haledon Public School was among about a dozen schools to receive a grant this year.

Each of Morgan’s five classes tackled a different period of history to contribute to the performance.

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