*The power of hip-hop as a cultural force, creative juggernaut, and distinctive method of disseminating narratives, opinion, and news is undeniable.
At its core, rap music is a display of verbal dexterity and wit, a skill of communication and imagination. And as shown by many of the rap artists featured in Ice-T’s 2012 documentary Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, the rhymes begin via an arduous composition process utilizing paper and pen. So by extension, the rap lyrics are created through writing.
Since the 1990s, primary and secondary school educators have recognized that rap rhythms and rhymes can be effective teaching methods for a variety of subjects, particularly in classrooms with disadvantaged, learning-challenged, and at-risk children. With the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (aka The Nation’s Report Card) showing that only 18 percent of Black 4th grade students and 21 percent of Hispanic 4th grade students are reading at or above proficient, the need for rigorous and culturally relevant teaching tools is increasingly important.
Dr. Beryl Irene Bailey, Ed.D, a 30-year veteran of primary education in the state of Connecticut, knows only too well the need for effective tools to improve writing scores and literacy. Currently the Director of Literacy at Bloomfield Public Schools, Dr. Bailey is a former school principal, speech/language pathologist, turn-around specialist, literacy coach and regular and special education classroom teacher who has previously innovated unique literacy programs and tools that have raised school performance in her district as well as in the state of Connecticut. Now that elementary and middle grade teachers are teaching narrative and expository writing as well as rhetorical argument in the classroom, Dr. Bailey says that the importance of punctuation in effective writing is getting lost. Further, punctuation symbols also have functions within math, science, and other disciplines, and students may be missing their significance.
In response, Dr. Bailey has introduced a brand-new program for grade-schoolers that harnesses the uniquely engaging power of rap music as well as animation. Titled The Punctuation Posse Patrol ™, this new program teaches basic punctuation to ages 6-12 via a team of original animated characters and an accompanying rap song. With a package containing a delightful full-color comic book and an audio CD featuring a catchy and memorable hip-hop theme, The Punctuation Posse Patrol cleverly explains the roles of each of the punctuation characters, how they work together and separately to help sentences in need, and creates a new level of excitement and engagement about writing in the classroom.
Dr. Bailey says that the idea for the characters sprang from her imagination as a solution to reinforcing the grammar and punctuation lessons that students seemed to be missing in their writing.
“Our students today need relevant, contextual and engaging instruction in the use of punctuation marks as a foundation for writing across all content areas, inclusive of fluency, comprehension, calculations and spoken and written communications,” she explains.
To bring the project to life, Dr. Bailey teamed with songwriter and music producer Raymond J. Barnes to co-create the comic book narrative as well as the music and lyrics for what is described as a “fast-paced lyrical tongue-twister that verbally illustrates” how each of the punctuation characters interacts with words in a sentence. The comic book also features the complete lyrics to the head-nodding “Punctuation Posse Patrol” theme. Nationally syndicated cartoonist Joe Young Jr., who drew the nine cartoon characters who make up the Punctuation Posse Patrol (Patsy Period, Aaron apostrophe, the Quotation Quartet, Quincy Question Mark, Courtney Comma, and Eric Exclamation Point) created original pen and ink drawings for the story. She then tapped color and graphic artist Kyle Young to work with the team to illustrate the Posse’s adventures as they go to work in the world of communication.
The fun new way for kids to learn punctuation is based on solid pedagogical theory and experience. A native of New Haven, Dr. Bailey earned a B.A. in special and elementary education from Simmons College in Boston, and a Master of Science in communication disorders from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. She followed up by earning her doctorate in curriculum development and systemic change from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. To top it off, Dr. Bailey completed the Urban Leaders Academy program offered by Harvard University’s School of Education. This extensive training, combined with her unflagging commitment to literacy and the future of our children, are the foundations of Dr. Bailey’s innovative approaches to education.
The Punctuation Posse Patrol program was unveiled at a special reception October 27 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill, CT, not far from the Bloomfield Public School District where Dr. Bailey has overseen turnarounds in literacy and numeracy. Among those present to celebrate and endorse Dr. Bailey’s project were Theresa Hopkins-Staten, Esq, former vice chair of the state board of Education and Chair of the Board’s Legislation and Policy Committee; Dr. Edward Joyner, member of the New Haven, Connecticut, Board of Education; Dr. Melissa Jenkins, Director of Literacy for Bridgeport Public Schools; Wanda Carroll-Williams, Principal of Joseph Pye Elementary School in South Carolina; Dr. Tony Menelik Van DerMeer, senior lecturer in Africana Studies at the University of Massachusetts; and Rachel Ring, Consultant for Reading Plus, an online reading development and support program. These and other district and state educators, literacy experts, colleagues and friends were on hand to witness the celebration, which included a live performance of “Punctuation Posse Patrol” by Raymond J. Barnes backed by members of the Bloomfield High School Choir.
The “Punctuation Posse Patrol” comic book and CD are available nationwide to educators, administrators, and parents by contacting Dr. Beryl Bailey directly at [email protected]. The digital hip-hop track itself is available for download on iTunes. For more information, go to www.punctuationpossepatrol.com .
Janine Coveney is a former editor at Billboard, Essence, Launch/Yahoo!, and United Stations Radio Networks. She continues to freelance as a writer and editor. Contact her via: [email protected]