Woods Charter, a K-12 school, will begin phasing into Plan B on Monday, but for a year now, Irons — like many educators — has been looking for ways to engage his students during remote learning.
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Shortly into the pandemic, the Woods Charter School development team asked music and chorus teacher Creighton Irons to write a song for the school’s annual fundraiser, to be hosted online.
Irons remembers thinking, “Well, let’s get the kids to sing it.”
It took about 40 hours of work. He had to compile tracks, teach students to sing to them, find intuitive software students could use to film their parts and edit all the individual parts together. But at the end, “The Seeds We Sow” video compilation was complete.
Since then, Irons has made seven more production videos — the editing process is down to about 10 hours now – along with several smaller videos for individual classes. Woods Charter, a K-12 school, will begin phasing into Plan B on Monday, but for a year now, Irons — like many educators — has been looking for ways to engage his students during remote learning.
“Music is technically extra for everybody. It’s not a core class, like English or math, where they’re tested, and they have to pass to advance,” he said. “So then my role becomes really sort of confusing in a pandemic, when people are stressed out, and they have so much on their plate, and they get 10,000 emails a day. How can I force somebody to care about this other task?”
His first instinct was to tell students to “just go play music and explore,” but he knew students needed structure to learn to sing or play an instrument.
“What I’ve stumbled into is the idea that, OK, if we’re going to do anything it has to have some component of really just awesomeness to it. And if I’m going to ask them to invest, I need to say, ‘This is going to be worth it,’” Irons said. “Because so much of their online lives just feels like clicking boxes or sort of spinning their wheels. So, I’m not going to say, here’s another worksheet to do, or another website to go look at these different exercises or games — I want to have something that they can show for it at the end of their time.”
Irons’ approach is appreciated by many parents, students and even the principal.
“He’s a pretty phenomenal person,” said Woods Charter Principal Cotton Bryan, “and the work he’s doing is heartening.”
Gianni DePietro, a 3rd grader at Woods Charter, said he’s had a lot of fun making the videos.
“I’ve been participating in his music videos, his assignments that he posts, like there are some fun games that he did for music. It’s one of my favorite things to do music,” he said. “It’s really cool how Mr. Irons can put videos together with kids singing apart. It’s really cool when you put it together.”
Fifth-grader Eve Terrell has been featured in five of the videos. She was nervous for the first video — particularly about her singing solo – but that eased after seeing the first video.
“I was super excited, but also nervous, because I knew a lot of people were going to see it,” she said. “I think it looked really cool — I didn’t expect it to look that good.”
Two of Eve’s siblings have been involved in the video production, too — her sister Navah, in 3rd grade, takes music class and they’ve performed duets together. Their older brother Eli, a senior, helped film the schoolwide production of “Home,” which is Irons’ personal favorite.
Mary Terrell, their mom, said she saw the music videos pull her children together as siblings to work on things together.
“It was one of the few times we saw our kids, especially our youngest Navah, kind of have the self initiative to really want to get a project done,” she said. “And she would not only want to record one version, she would want to do like two or three.
“I think everyone, if not most parents in the community, felt a huge sense of pride when they saw that video,” she said of the first video, shown at the beginning of the pandemic. “It really seemed to bring everyone together during that challenging time for sure.”
While Irons has enjoyed making the videos, he’s looking forward to performing live concerts again. Still, he plans to carry the videos into a post-COVID future, too, particularly for original songs, which could include all grades.
“It’s another tool I have now in the toolkit,” he said, “and I’m glad to have it now.”
Sometimes, he said he gets inspired and adds electronic instruments to the video — slightly appeasing his need to create with people in a completely remote format.
And if ever he gets frustrated with some students missing notes or not editing something precisely the way he wants to, Irons said he thinks about the enjoyment he’s seen on his students faces as they watch the completed videos.
“I always try to respond to what is going to light the kids up, you know, because they’re not real lit up right now,” he said. “(I'm) just feeling overwhelmed with pride and gratitude that they’re singing into the camera at all. Because it really, for so many, it’s a huge leap to turn that camera on, and sing and hit submit — so I’m just wanting to make that experience of putting yourself out there a positive one.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.