In the News: YA helps Riley School Celebrate Black History Month!

Riley School Celebrates Black History Month with Virtual Dance Assembly, Principles of Hip Hop: Peace, Love, Unity and Having Fun!


Published by TAPinto South Plainfield, February 19, 2021

SOUTH PLAINFIELD – Throughout the month of February, teachers at John E. Riley School have explored African American culture and iconic individuals as they recognize Black History Month. On February 9, students took part in a virtual dance assembly called “The Principles of Hip Hop: Peace, Love, Unity & Having Fun” by Young Audiences, an organization working to inspire positive change in young people through an exploration of the roots of hip hop. The Riley Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) sponsored two assemblies, one for children pre-K through 1st grade, and one for the 2nd to 4th graders.

“We had the pleasure of hosting ‘Hip Hop Fundamentals,’ which was an assembly that used hip hop dancing and history to explore the topic of culture and diversity,” said Carly Ashnault, Riley School Guidance Counselor. “The students enjoyed this digital assembly, and really got into the dancing component!”

“This particular assembly was about the musical talent and how it impacted children from the Bronx and just spread throughout the United States,” said Rosaura Valarezo, Interim Principal of Riley School. “That was extremely important for the students to understand, and they really received it in a beautiful way.”

Although normally the assembly is conducted in-person, the virtual assembly was a success according to Valarezo. Each assembly lasted about 50 minutes. Videos and dance demonstrations depicted the history of hip hop. Dancer taught the students dance moves and explained how rhythm works.

Hip Hop FundamentalsThe ensemble from Young Audiences use break dancing and audience participation to teach how Black youth changed the world, focusing on youth empowerment, creativity, and working together. With dynamic movements, instructors taught hip hop’s four principals: Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun. They also gave the children the opportunity to demonstrate their new moves.

“When they added the music, the kids went crazy. They absolutely loved it!” said Valarezo. “Let me tell you, I saw the kids completely engaged. They were dancing in the classrooms. They were dancing at home. Even the shy children were dancing and having fun. It really impacted them all positively.”

According to Ashnault, Riley has some very talented students who compete in dance competitions outside of school. Encouraging students to be “Riley Rockstars,” any student who achieves a success is acknowledged in the school’s morning announcements. There was a special surprise recognition during this presentation.

“We have some amazing dancers at our school, some of whom compete on local dance studio competition teams,” said Ashnault. “During our assembly, our hosts from Hip Hop Fundamentals gave a shout out to three of our dancers who recently placed 1st in their dance competition with their studio Spotlight On Dance, Fiona Ramdawar, Ethan Everitt, and Clara Lamadore.”

To close “The Principals of Hip Hop: Peace, Love, Unity & Having Fun” assembly, dancers showed students the hand gesture for peace with two fingers in the air, then the sign for love as they shaped their hands into a heart, then unity as they gave themselves a hug, and then they had students all open up their arms indicating to have fun.

“Just to see the children and how happy they looked was amazing because music speaks to everyone,” said Valarezo. “It was just so nice because the dancers encouraged them to dance the steps and to really hear the music. They could also freestyle and just dance the way they wanted because there was no right or wrong. It was a really wonderful experience for the children.”

The Hip Hop Fundamentals was a highlight in a month full of lessons and activities.

“When we first introduced Black History Month, we talked about the important role and impact that many African Americans played in our country’s history such as Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, and Frances Harper,” said Ashnault. “We have had students read stories, watch videos, do activities, and explore digital resources in hopes that they will learn something new about such an important topic.”

The Elementary School Counseling Team, including Leanna Fay, Carly Ashnault, Melissa Zurawiecki and Rowena Wu, has worked to incorporate educational material for students to have access with the goal to promote inclusivity and understanding.

“The entire month of February, Riley Elementary will continue to explore the topic of Black History Month through posts on the counseling Google Classroom and within the homeroom classrooms as the teachers partake in activities and reading materials with their students,” said Ashnault. “Our goal is to promote a positive, safe, inclusive and diverse school environment where all of our students can feel free to express and explore who they want to become as they grow.”