These children are serious: the two little girls holding tubas nearly as tall as they are, the group of boys standing ramrod straight with their snare drums, and the line of kids with clarinets and saxophones tucking their chins and carefully placing their fingers on the keys of their instruments. There is no fidgeting or whispering. The William Green Elementary School RAP Marching Band in Lawndale, Calif., a group of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, is ready to perform.
And wow, can they play! Under the baton of Jason Farr, a member of the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees, these miniature musicians outshine many middle and high school bands.
Members of the AFT’s PSRP division were lucky enough to hear the RAP band—for Realizing Amazing Potential, the school district’s after-school program—at the AFT’s convention last summer, but the real story is in the ongoing program these children attend. Farr, along with his colleague Ariceli Guzman, teaches more than 50 children during the school year on instruments obtained through grants and donations (the AFT contributed a $500 honorarium).
The band has won several awards marching in local holiday parades, and they’ve even played for the mayor. In 2013, the RAP program won a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association.
Along with musicianship, Farr and Guzman insist on discipline and focus. “If your parent comes up to you and tries to take a picture, or people tell you you’re adorable, you can’t let that break your zone,” Farr tells them. “You’re a musician.” He also teaches them to be responsible for an instrument, respect others, be on time and look their best.
Farr, Guzman and close to 90 other classified employees who teach RAP classes, such as Mexican dance, skate club and flags, joined the AFT in 2012—the first group of educators to be represented from this sort of after-school program. Considering their level of performance and dedication, “they are at the level of a certified teacher,” says Carl Williams, president of the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees, which he helped organize. “Our members are on the frontline. These are the people who engage the children every day.”
Farr, who is working his way through community college and hopes to become a full-time music educator in the future, is simultaneously thrilled to see his students’ progress and modest about his own success. “If I was able to inspire one kid,” he says, “if I am able to get that ‘aha’ moment in those children, that keeps me going.”