Teacher, students find success through 'hip hop' literacy program

NyRee Clayton-Taylor (Source: WAVE 3 News)
NyRee Clayton-Taylor (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – The conversation over widening achievement gaps within some Jefferson County Public School, particularly involving students of color, has been widely discussed. Recent reports have shown that the scores in English and reading below the state average.

However, there's a sound of success coming from a class inside Phillis Wheatley elementary school.

NyRee Clayton-Taylor's classroom is kind of like a music studio. She's taught creative writing for 17 years and for two years at Wheatley Elementary.

In her classroom, Clayton-Taylor plays the role of executive producer. While her trusty teaching assistant Molly, who in real life is a wooden spoon, maintains the tempo.

"A lot people don't call it Mrs. Clayton's class," Andrene Flowers, a 5th grade student, said." They call it the hip hop class."

Two years ago, Clayton-Taylor she started her hip hop literacy program at Wheatley Elementary.

She found a way to relate to her students and is axing what some would call traditional teaching methods.

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"They're not traditional and if we keep going about it the same way it's not going to work," Clayton-Taylor said.

"I think it's a way that kids, like say kids in the neighborhood don't get to experience this equipment around because they don't have enough money for it," Malachi English, a 5th grade student, said. "They can come down here and play with it and see how stuff works."

The class just finished writing a song called California Love. It's about the neighborhood their school sits in the heart of.

The community has seen its fair share of crime and hardships. The lyrics reflect that, but also offers hope.

"We performed in front of 3,000 people," Flowers said. "Everybody was self-confident and had self-esteem which is a part of the song."

Clayton-Taylor has gone above and beyond booking performances and shooting music videos with her class. She won Kentucky's elementary school teacher of the year for her work.

The students wouldn't let the WAVE 3 News crew leave without performing California Love. Watch the video above to see it.

For those who may be critical of Clayton-Taylor's method. Does rapping and dancing work? Are these kids really learning?

She offered an invitation in response.

"You can come to my classroom. Come on. Come next year because as the kids say it's going to be lit next year."

Hip hop history and vocabulary is also included in Clayton-Taylor's curriculum. She said her class will have a performance this summer at Forecastle.

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