Using Hip-Hop to add life to lessons

ST. PAUL - The debates are heated. The debaters voice their opinions like candidates bidding for a political office. But in this story, the passionate are students at the High School For Recording Arts in St. Paul.

The handful of students make up a class called "Hip Hop History in the Arts." On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, they were making their case about hip hop music's influence on society.

Their advisor, Chadwick "Niles" Phillips, wrote the curriculum that is paired with the English program at the charter school.

"Classes like this are important because we have youth that need to learn about arts and life and (there is) no better place for them to learn about that than in the education setting," Phillips said.

The 31-year-old added, students can use hip hop to complete homework assignments and projects. Phillips has seen students turn rhymes into essays for writing assignments. Others have used hip-hop to complete Science projects encouraging the benefits of going green. Some take it step further and use hip hop to help remember math formulas.

But Phillips is taking his curriculum outside the classroom and training teachers in the St. Paul Public Schools. The district is contracting Phillips, a Michigan State University graduate, to highlight ways hip hop can be as a learning tool in the classroom.

Sherry Kempf, an outreach Coordinator who works with the St. Paul Public Schools, said the workshop is one of many steps the district is taking adapt to the changing demographic.

"We had request from teachers because teachers want to connect with students and they understand that they need to learn more about student culture and understand the importance of hip hop," she said.

Kempf said the staff hopes to learn how hip hop "can be implemented directly in terms of curriculum and teaching styles."

Kempf said an understanding the background of hip hop will helps foster relationships.

"So even if teachers can't use it directly they can gain some understanding of the culture and … build more relationships and deeper more authentic relationships with our students."

Meanwhile, Phillips is confident his presentation will ignite imagination. He's already seen a change in some of the students he advises.

The workshop is free and open to the public. It is taking place Thursday in St. Paul at the Multicultural Resource Center which doubles as Washington Technology Magnet School. It is located at 1495 Rice Street. For more information visit


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