Beyond the Basics: Super Subs Bring the Arts to
This article was first published on the George Lucas, "Edutopia" website. It was written by Elizabeth Crane. Lauren Elliott of PNN News was on hand to help with photography along with the PNN Staff.
This is part of a special program to help school principals. When the Super Subs take over a school for a day, the principal can meet with teachers to plan for the upcoming school year. This extra planning time is important when school are having difficulty reaching academic yearly goals under "No Child Left Behind". Bob Barboza wanted to find a creative way to help schools directly. He felt that the best way was to roll up your sleeves and get involved in the classrooms where all the action is. This type of project gives communities members a first hand look at what it is to teach these days. The Super Subs is a great program and we need your support to keep sending Super Subs to help teachers. If you want to make a donation, please contact Bob Barboza at Suprschool@aol.com. or Call (562) 221-1780 Cell. For more information about the Super Subs visit.
Beyond the Basics: Super Subs Bring the Arts to
These unusual substitute teachers offer a day of curriculum-expanding
fun to schools -- free.
by Elizebth Crane
School of Rock:
Professional drummer and drum
instructor Ronnie Ciago is up on the stage of the Little Theater at La Puente
High School, in La Puente, California, near Los Angeles. Without preamble, he
sits down at his drum set and runs through a crashing, rocking riff that stuns
to silence the twenty or so kids in the class.
When he stops, the kids whistle, whoop,
and clap. As the noise dies down, Ciago's colleague, Bob Barboza, begins his
lesson on world rhythms, with Ciago poised to demonstrate.
Not Your Average Substitutes
If this doesn't sound like a typical
class, that's because it isn't. These aren't your typical teachers; they are
substitutes. And they aren't your typical substitute teachers, either --
they're Super Subs.
The brainchild of Barboza, a retired
teacher, the Super Subs program is a way to bring arts and music to underserved
students. Barboza recruited a group of friends -- some of whom once played
together in a semiprofessional band -- to be the subs. At first, the idea was
to give back to schools in the community where they all grew up. But after
experiencing success at their local schools, they decided to take their show on
Here's how it works: Barboza and the
twenty other musicians, artists, writers, and designers he's recruited take
over classes for the day. They teach their own brand of music, art, writing,
journalism, and self-esteem. The visits don't cost schools a dime. The Personal News Network, a social-media
Web site run by one of the Super Subs, picks up the tab, and most of the Super
Subs volunteer their time. (Find out how to bring the Super Subs to your school
by visiting the Super Subs page at the
Personal News Network.)
An Antidote to Teaching to the Test
The day the Super Subs visit La Puente
starts like any other. All the students attend their usual first-period
classes. For the hundred or so kids in the school's Multilingual Academy (for
English-language learners) and Folklorico programs, though, everything changes
when the second-period bell rings. Their teachers have arranged a Super Sub day
Students and teachers sing and dance as
the Super Subs rock the crowd at a midday concert.
Credit: Lauren Elliott
They meet the day's ten visiting Super
Subs in the auditorium for an orientation and introductions, then head to
classes held in the theater, the library, and three classrooms. While Barboza
is investigating rhythms, a professional dancer and choreographer from Las
Vegas is teaching street moves in the auditorium. In a classroom between the
two, a guitar-playing sub talks about math and music while another, a
professional motivational speaker, winds up the class by talking about dreams
English teacher Noel Martinez says the
Super Subs' visit is a treat for his English-language learners, who are liable
to think of school as something to endure rather than enjoy. "It brings in
different voices, showing them that other professions are available to
them," he explains. "It's not coming from their regular teachers, and
it's not from their parents, so maybe they'll listen."
"It takes a variety of media to
reach everyone -- we just have to find the right hook," comments Nancy
Gibson, the teacher responsible for the Super Subs's La Puente visit. "Our
kids don't necessarily get experiences like this. You know how when you think
back to high school, there were a few days when something happened that you
really remember as being great? I want this to be one of those days for these
Students Find Their Voices
Two doors down from the motivational
speaker, Super Sub Caren Singer is instructing her students to write. She gives
them blank journals and tells them to write something every day. When this
direction gets a lukewarm response, she asks them, "Who here has
experienced terror?" Ernesto, a junior in a bright blue shirt, is the only
one to raise his hand.
When she asks what it was like, he
speaks down to the table, but she hears him and shouts, "Yes! It made you
feel cold, and your throat closed up, and you couldn't speak or move.
Yes!" When she adds, "One time, I was so scared I peed my
pants," a ripple of amusement passes through the room.
She hands around bottles of scent and
asks the students to think of words they associate with the smell. "Think
of a season, think of a color, think of a sound," she exhorts. As the kids
call out words, she writes them on the board.
A smart aleck at the back of the room
says, "Underwear," making everyone snicker, but Singer just responds
with a serious tone, "That's brilliant, very creative, good." Not
getting a rise out of her, the would-be joker gives up and gets back on task.
Once she has the lists of words for the
various scents on the board, Singer asks the students to put the words together
into a poem. Embarrassed grumbling results. "Trust yourself," she
says. "There is no right or wrong." When she reads out the poems the
students have written, the Super Sub exclaims over each unusual juxtaposition.
By the time the class is over, most of the kids are writing, writing, writing,
and they want to show her everything they've written.
When the bell rings, Singer returns to
her stated objective for the class: "I would like you to walk out of here
today with a vision of yourself as a writer." As they each clutch a
journal and file out to the next Super Sub class, it's possible that's exactly what
the students are thinking.
Later, after a lunchtime concert by the
Super Subs that leaves the impressed students asking for autographs, Ernesto --
the student who spoke up during Singer's writing class -- reflects on the
experience. "My dad is a janitor at UCLA," he says, "but I want
to do something better, do well in school and go to college."
The message of the day, that you can
achieve what you aspire to achieve, is not news to him, but he says the way it
was presented was entirely different. "They did it with music and it was .
. . wow," he states. "This is the first time in three years here I've
seen anything like this." Then he smiles widely and adds, as though he
invented the idea, "You learn better when you're having fun."
Elizabeth Crane is a
freelance writer in San Francisco who writes about many things, including
education, parenting, technology, and food.