IN 1996, A BRAND-NEW RECORDING STUDIO OPENED IN ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA. Its owner, David T.C. Ellis, was ready to take his experience as a recording artist and find young talent to represent. The clients started rolling in. However, they didn’t quite fit the profile he was originally seeking.
Rather than attracting burgeoning stars on the adult-side of their lives, the studio was attracting young teenagers with a pure passion for hip hop and rap. They were strikingly creative, talented, and resourceful in ways that reached beyond the narrow lens of music. But, it was music that brought them there. Impressed, and concerned, David realized these kids were ditching school. Their reason? School was boring. They couldn’t explore their passions.
Fast forward 20 years later, and that little recording studio has been transformed into a high-functioning learner-centered environment called High School for Recording Arts (HSRA).
Learning through music is a simple way to present the model at HSRA, but that wouldn’t do it justice. Music is but one small doorway into an immense world of possibility. The personalized, relevant, and contextualized nature of HSRA’s approach to learning allows every learner to find strength and confidence within their life story and use it to connect with the real world. When learners are ready, they are able to launch themselves into open-walled opportunities that connect their passion for music and other emerging interests with community needs.
One group of learners, fully aware of the minuscule number of educators who looked like them, wanted to start an inter-school dialogue around why young people of color and American Indians weren’t going into the teaching profession. They immediately recognized an issue that has affected multiple generations; took advantage of their socially-embedded learning environment to collaborate and design a project to address it; and acquired the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to implement a high-impact dialogue across St. Paul.
This display of learner agency is no exception at HSRA or in the work they take on within their community. And, with access to community groups, therapists, social workers, and housing liaisons, learners are given the resources they need to succeed. HSRA leaders appreciate what they’ve been able to accomplish since their official opening in 2001. And, they are ready to take their lessons learned and assist communities throughout the country to establish similar programs that match their unique learners’ needs.