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Raps and rhymes at Buckingham

(Oct. 12, 2017) For four years, hip-hop artist Bomani Armah has visited Buckingham Elementary School in Berlin, working with small groups during the week and culminating in a school assembly that bridges the gap between entertainment and education.

Armah was back at it last week, working with second-grade students Monday through Thursday.

“He’s been here every day, talking with them and they’ve been writing rap songs based on the writing process,” said art teacher Melissa Reid. “Writing is a big push in our school right now. Every class has to submit through a writer’s workshop, which is focused information about writing. Bomani coming in is a totally different take on that.”

Reid said the lessons included proper use of similes and metaphors, and instruction based on rhyming words.

“The second-graders were working on fables, so he took the fables they were working on and incorporated that vocabulary into the rhymes that they wrote,” she said.

On Friday, Armah took the stage at an assembly about the history of hip-hop, from its roots in blues and jazz, to the evolution of funk and artists such as James Brown, to how deejays use vinyl records and a pair of turntables to keep the beat.

Armah demonstrated his own skills, taught the students some basic moves, and played video of classic songs and performances throughout the presentation.

Second-graders also got to show their stuff, performing their songs in front of the entire school.

“The whole school gets an idea of Bomani’s take on the writing process, which is nice, because everybody gets included in what he’s teaching to the second-graders,” Reid said.

Armah, a Washington, D.C. resident, connected with Buckingham through Young Audiences of Maryland, which links artists with schools. The school received grants through the Maryland State Arts Council and funding from the Berlin-Ocean City Optimist Club.

“As schools go, Buckingham is one of the better public schools I’ve been in,” Armah said. “The student-to-teacher ratio is very high, and the energy is always great.”

He said the interaction with students helps to improve his technique as a teacher and performer, not to mention the boost he gets from working with dozens of children who were clearly excited by his visit.

“I’m a professional artist and I try to get people involved and excited about what I do artistically, but nothing beats performing for second-, third- and fourth-graders,” he said. “I love being a part of this community and the teachers tell me all the time the kids are excited about writing, in general, after I’m done. That’s the biggest reward.”