Hip Hop 2 Education (H2Ed) is a non profit program whose mission is to inform all education, direct youth practitioners, and educational institutions on the applications of Hip-Hop culture as a tool to engage youth in academic and life skills. Through educational summits, film festivals and numerous lesson plans, H2Ed looks to build a community concerned with the youth and share the information it gathers to other educators. We spoke with Tricia Wang, Vice President of H2Ed, for more information on the organization’s goals and the upcoming events for this year.
Website: Hiphop 2 Education
Haltftime: Give us an overview of H2Ed and how you came to help put together the program.
Tricia Wang: At H2Ed we advocate for the use of hiphop culture as an educational tool on a grassroots and institutional level. Our goal is to reform the educational world. We have a vision where by 2010 all educators in the country will know how to use hiphop as one of their tools for engaging youth in academic skills or life skills. We definitely don’t think hiphop is the answer to everything, it’s just that we want to reform education. Teachers don’t know how to use students’ culture and listen to their narratives to connect with kids and engage them in their education. If we can train teachers to do that then it will really reform the educational world. However, that’s not the answer to everything and there are plenty of educational problems that have to do with social, economic, and generational issues that we’re not here to solve but we want to work on them. Also one of our big things is that by the year 2010 by doing this and holding summits and different programs the youth will feel empowered to bring their culture to the classroom.
One of your biggest initiatives is the yearly hiphop education summit you started last November. Tell me about the summit and how you managed to entice educators to show up and learn about hiphop as a viable educational tool.
Tricia: Martha Diaz and I co founded H2Ed. When we met we were both educators, she was teaching in public high schools in the Bronx and I was teaching in an after school program teaching youth how to use media for social change. We both had this natural process of using hiphop as a tool to connect with the youth and were using it as a platform to engage them in other skills and connecting them to standards like the regents, life skills or leadership skills. We both had two questions 1) how do we get our hands on more lesson plans that use hiphop and 2) how do we share what we do with other educators around the world. There was no platform and we were like we have to do something about this. First, we said it would be great if we had a summit where we could connect educators face to face to talk about hiphop and education in the same sentence. Even a lot of teachers who are from the hiphop generation are not aware of what they are doing because either they aren’t allowed to bring it into the classroom or they aren’t documenting it. There were already several things against us since we couldn’t find any lesson plans or programs that this was taught.
The summit is the first place to get educators face to face but then we had to take the next step which was developing a database with a centralized repository so we could allow educators to download lesson plans and program models and activities and allow other educators to upload and share. That’s what we’re working towards building. We know if we launched that now educators wouldn’t use it because we first have to do a lot of advocacy work to teach people about hiphop and education. We had the summit so we could really prepare people. Our outreach was very simple, we contacted certain professors who were already talking about it in academia. However, it was real easy to get teachers there because they are so desperate for tools. Teachers are desperate but are scared of the students, cynical but still hopeful of finding other ways to reach them. We had teachers come from all over the country and it wasn’t even meant to be a national summit. Last year was just about connecting, this year we’re about educating so we’re having direct workshops to train teachers on how to use urban tools and popular culture. There are other organizations that do things on hiphop and we want them to have a space too. We don’t develop our own curriculums. We already knew other educators providing their own curriculum we just wanted a way for them to network and share.
Did you take any suggestions from last year’s summit that you plan on adding this year?
Tricia: Yes we definitely did. The three things they asked for was food, workshops, and resources and lesson plans. That’s what we’re planning to do this year. We weren’t able to give them tools last year because the summit was a form of outreach itself. It’s all workshops this year, we only have two panels and a keynote speaker.
Some of the educators we talked with were shunned when they tried to introduce ways to bring hiphop into the classroom. How can these teachers better address their colleagues on the importance of this matter?
Tricia: One they want to point them to the H2Ed.net website because we talk a lot about why hiphop can be used. Its very hard to convince people when they already have a negative view of hiphop so its really not their colleagues they have to convince. We teach teachers how to work with their administration to get approvals. All administrators really care about is getting the youth connected to academic standards, raise their test scores and pass the regents. So we try to tell people to frame it by saying my students are more engaged, their attending school more and this is raising their test scores and document that on paper. Understandably, you can’t just go to your administration or school board and say I want to use hiphop tools, you have to put it down on paper, explain it and be able to evaluate it and really write it down in a lesson plan format. That’s part of what we’re doing at H2Ed, trying to convince people to write it down. The initial problem in them not writing it down is the school administration has not been open to them doing that. We understand what we’re up against and that is why we are collecting everyone’s lessons plans and curricula and we’re publishing it into books of best practices, evaluations, and best of the best lesson plans and model programs so that people can have a tool. That takes time but once that’s published the database will be in full effect because then people will say hiphop is very viable and I will start documenting it. Right now, it’s a real small community and we’re just working to identify those people and bring them out of the woodwork.
Outside of dealing with the administration what other obstacles do teachers face when they try to bring hiphop into the classroom?
Tricia: When teachers are open to it sometimes it comes off as very phony or cheesy especially when the teacher isn’t from the hiphop culture. We encounter that a lot and that’s why we offer trainings and do work where we train people how to do it. That’s something we’re up against because how do you bring it in the classroom in such a way where it isn’t patronizing. So we tell teachers you don’t have to say here’s a rap song or rap about Shakespeare, if you just set up a guideline and an environment where your students are open to using their culture the students will bring it into the classroom. We always say to teachers listen to the narratives they are already bringing in. You can just say bring your favorite song and analyze it. You don’t have to say bring in a hiphop song or rap song because the students already have a CD player and its there ready to go. I tell teachers to educate themselves about the culture before you start bringing it in or allowing it to be brought in. If you truly respect your students as equals it will come out you just have to allow it to because it’s already there.
What has been the most rewarded aspect of creating H2Ed at this point?
Tricia: One of the most rewarding parts is to hear educators who have been using hiphop for the past ten or twenty years say ‘oh my god I thought I was the only one.’ We had a lot of people come to our summit last year saying I’m the only one at my school who is using this and everyone thinks I’m crazy and now I’m excited to share. On one level that’s very inspiring. Two is to actually hear from educators who are not from hiphop culture or don’t know about it who say I have found a new way to connect with my youth. I see a change now, they are opening up to me and they are much more excited about learning because they say things like it relates to my life now and I understand it. Third is just to look at the youth and seeing them be themselves and that’s where the core inspiration comes from.
For everyone who may still be skeptical why is including hiphop in the classroom important?
Tricia: It’s important because that’s what the kids are and to deny their entire culture or make them leave it out in the streets or at home is not the right way to be teaching. That’s a very basic thing in teaching that if you don’t recognize and respect your students for what they bring in that’s gonna set you up for a lot of pitfalls and create a lot of roadblocks to reach the youth. It’s almost like saying you’re Chinese but you can’t talk about it in the classroom.
I also heard you have a film festival as well can you tell me about that before you go?
Tricia: We have the summit but we also have the film festival, which is the Hiphop Odyssey International Film Festival (H20IFF). That takes place the first week of November. It’s actually pretty strategic for us to have the film festival first and then the summit two weeks later. The film festival is a platform for adults and youth to have a place to exhibit their work and highlight independent hiphop community artists. We also have panels and screenings for adults but more importantly we have a youth program Monday-Saturday. The films are made for and curated by youth. Youth filmmakers produce all the films we show and the films that are chosen to be in the festival are chosen by youth. So we have the Youth Curation Board. From Monday thru Saturday they get to watch these youth produced films, which are really to inspire other youth filmmakers to learn more about filmmaking. We also have classes so they not only watch films they can take the basics of video filmmaking. It’s great because we bring in the youth filmmakers to talk to them. We also have an emcee competition and a video slam where instead of slamming poetry you slam your video. All of that is packaged together with lesson plans so when teachers bring the students there are lessons they can do before and after that they can build into the classroom. After that we distribute it. Some of the pieces are eligible for international work or film festivals around the world. This year the film festival is in Paris. The film festival will be showing films the whole week and H2Ed will be having panels then. Our work is very global because hiphop is global and we have to work on that level.