Our first goal was to create a unique cultural experience for students that also created the feeling of community and a sense of belonging. Based on attendance taken at each class, it is evident that students felt committed to this program. There were only small fluctuations in student participation numbers, with average attendance consistent. Students expressed how they felt they were part of a team and that their participation was important to the success of the group. Students learned two West African Rhythms - Kuku & Sinte, the associated songs in Susu language for Kuku and Sinte, along with the associated dances as well.   Evidence of student learning this cultural knowledge was demonstrated by participating in two performances for the school – one performance for each rhythm. Students also gained geographic and cultural knowledge by studying a map of Africa and learning about several West African instruments and where they come from djembe (Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso), dunduba (West Guinea), sangban (West Guinea), kinkini (West Guinea), talking drum (Nigeria), krin (Forest Guinea), kora (Guinea, Mali, Senegal), balafon (Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast), shakere (Forest Guinea), kashakas (Forest Guinea). Students also had the opportunity to learn how to play some of these instruments (krin, shakare, kashakas). The second goal was to track a correlation between student participation in the program and student performance and behavior during the school day. Students were expected to regularly submit a data sheet that served as communication between the student and myself, tracking student performance. Forms, kept in my classroom, were filled out before drum and dance class every week. This gave me a great opportunity to check their forms and discuss student responses with each student. Additionally, students were not allowed to be kicked-out of the program or banned from attending. Low–performing students often have things taken away from them such as elective/resource classes, recess, field trips, plus detentions and suspensions. While these behavior management processes may be important during the school day, this program was intended to serve the purpose of being something that belonged to the students, which could not be taken away. Additionally, this would also allow for better documentation because, if a student is removed from the program every time they got in “big” trouble, then there are no students to turn in data forms about “bad” choices they made and why. The therapeutic process of this program was intended to allow students to have one place they knew they could count on and be present in, no matter how tough or rough their day was.

Half the team in drum class...

... and the other half in dance class!


Amo taught the students about various African instruments and showed them on the map where each instrument is from.  Then, he gave students a demonstration on how these instruments are played.  Finally, the students took turns playing each instrument as well!


First of all, compared to all after-school programs offered during the 2014-2015 school year, we had the highest amount of participation and commitment! We had a total of 34 students participate full-time!! 

Secondly, all students were able to write positive, thoughtful responses describing the learning and growth they experienced through our program.  Here are a few of the exceptional stories shared with me by teachers and staff who also observed positive change:

One 4th grade teacher came to me and told me that her student had countless missing assignments (which he was not reporting on his data sheet). She asked if there was anything I could do to try to give him an incentive to turn in his missing work. Before our next practice, I spoke with that student about what his teacher had reported to me and explained to him that his drum teacher and I were very disappointed to learn what I had been told. He was surprised to know that we cared and promised to turn his missing work in, which he did, according to his teacher.

Another student was in 5th grade. Over the past couple years; she had been having problems with respectful communication with adults. She was constantly defensive and sometimes did not even respond to faculty or staff when addressed with a comment as simple as good morning. One concerned staff member often tried to connect with this student and spoke with her regularly. Even to him, she was unresponsive and sometimes rude.   Working in the same building as our practice, he would recognize her for her participation in the African drum and dance program and tell her he was looking forward to seeing her shine on stage. If she responded to him at all, she would say “you’re not going to see me perform”.   When he did show up at the team’s performances, he noticed a smile on her face that is rarely seen. He come to me to share his these interactions with her and said that after her first show, her attitude changed and she hasn’t snapped at him or other faculty since. The faculty member shared his experience to let me know that he believes that this program changed her and helped her to understand there are adults who care about her and that, through our program, she has become more confident and now makes an effort to respectfully communicate with adults.

Finally, another student was one of my 4th graders. Growing up homeless, she often came to school angry, unable to concentrate, and was failing all her classes. This program became one place that she felt she mattered and when she would get frustrated and acted out in class, the program served as her incentive to “calm down” and get focused so she could be ready for practice. While her grades didn’t improve in this first semester of our program, her drive to stay focused in class and not get trouble was significantly increased. This improvement was not only observed by me, but also by our behavior counselor, who informed me that she also noticed a drastic, positive change in this student’s behavior and attitude.

Finally, throughout the program students continually expressed their surprise when they were able to successfully learn a rhythm on the drum, perform the dance associated with the rhythm and learn the song, sung in a foreign ethnic language. Initially, many students expressed their apprehension about performing and a few refused to play a solo on the drum. While we always encouraged the students to try everything, drumming, dancing, singing, it was always “challenge by choice”. They were allowed to choose whether they wanted to perform, though they were highly encouraged, and they were allowed to choose how active they wanted to be in the performance. In the end, all except for two regularly attending students choose to perform and all the drummers who performed ended up performing a solo on the drum.  At the end of the show, students were surprised and proud of their accomplishments and successes.


There were 75 3rd – 5th grade students at Williams Elementary enrolled in Title 1 intervention tutoring when our program was created.  Academic school days were challenging and, no matter how hard these students tried, they often got below average grades or ended up getting in trouble because of their frustrations. Furthermore, these struggling students received their intervention tutoring during their resource time, causing them to miss out on important creative, enrichment programs such as art and music.  Creative arts are not only a vital aspect of a student’s learning experience, but they are also an area that many low-performing students relate to, understand, and excel in.  To add to their challenges, similar after-school programs have unaffordable program fees.  

Beyond low performance in school, approximately 85% of the school’s students are considered low-SES. Growing up in a low-SES household presents additional stresses that are distracting to students in school and can affect their performance.  

Finally, 30% of our student participants were in an academically gifted program located in a separate wing of the school.  During the school day, the general ed. students and the gifted students never had opportunities to interact with one another.  This segregation caused a lot of tension and discomfort between the two student groups.  The primary reason problems occurred was because of assumptions made on both sides, due to the fact that neither group of students knew each other.  Since our program was free, the opportunity for all students to participate in the African Drum & Dance Team opened up a whole new world to both student groups.  They realized how much they have in common and many became friends.  It warmed my heart to see them stick up for each other during and outside of practices!!

Let the students speak for themselves!  Read students’ written responses regarding their experience in the African Drum & Dance Program. 


Extra special credit goes to Amo Soumah who was my essential partner in making this program happen!

World-renowned West African drummer Amo Soumah led the classes for this program. Amo was born and raised in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa. His entire life has been the quintessence of West African culture, traditions, and values. He speaks several African languages as well as French and English. He has been drumming and dancing for over 20 years. Amo has travelled around the world sharing his talents, performing, and teaching. Over the past year prior to our work in this children's program, I had the privilege of studying under and performing with Amo and know first-hand the quality experience that he envelops his students in. He brings knowledge, culture, expertise and a passion for the arts that can truly and uniquely enrich the lives of his students.


West African drumming traditions are old and powerful.  African drumming serves as a valuable tool to help children work through emotional, behavioral, and social issues. Drumming participants in other grade school programs have reported that 30 minutes of drumming reduces feelings of anger and depression, and helps them feel rejuvenated, alive, stronger than before, and more hopeful.  Groups struggling to get along or experiencing other difficulties quickly find ways to work together and support one another when they begin to drum. These immediate benefits are enhanced by increasing skills in cooperation, awareness, frustration tolerance and mental focus, among others.  Educational goals also are reinforced in drumming class, where children have the opportunity to use math, English, history and other crucial academic skills.

Additionally, children in primary grades love to move and learn through engagement of their whole self. If they become more literate in the language of rhythm and dance they have the ability to use this natural facility as a means of communication and self-expression, and as a way of understanding others. Every flourishing civilization has provided its children with instruction in creative arts and an understanding of its deeper meaning. Through West African drum and dance education, children feel the power of rhythm, song, and dance. Programs like these help create a positive medium through which low-performing students can communicate, process new information, and even channel frustrations.

Most importantly, traditional West African drumming and dance is not taught through written music or notation, meaning that students will not have to experience the academic pressures they feel in the classroom.   There is no reading music or interpreting complicated musical time signatures.  Rhythms are learned through listening, imitation, and repetition.  This learning process activates embodied knowledge as a valid experiential and intellectual way of knowing.  Scientifically based research has proven that the active nature of drumming and dance creates a safe environment for students to learn and be successful. This feeling of safety enables students to take risks and explore unknown territory, through which they achieve higher levels of learning. Multiple studies have demonstrated that this framework of learning has been proven as a successful intervention to empower low-performing students.



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Students Celebrating Their Success at the End of the Program