Growin’ up

Hi everybody.

Today I want to speak to you of a great group of kids, and of a great teacher, who claims only partial responsibility for the club’s creation (“it’s all on the kids, they are amazing”), and who is a Bruce fan, of course. We are talking about the first Middle School club in the United States devoted to Bruce: the Jukebox Graduates, who, among other projects, sees the students do a regular radio show called, “The Bruce Springsteen Hour,” at Duke University.

The club formed in the most unusual manner. Back in 2000, I was working at an alternative school, and since I taught many subjects I utilized thematic units. One I tried was a 9-week Bruce Springsteen unit that culminated with me purchasing tickets for 40 students and taking them to a show in Greensboro. Almost ten years later at my current school, which is in another district, I had the crazy idea to take 63 students to another show, also in Greensboro (2008).

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Five students from this first trip asked if we could start a Bruce club at our school. I initially stated no as I fully understood what their request would evolve into, I figured that I would appease them and tell them that if they reminded me the following school year I would consider it, figuring the summer would pass and so would their motivations. I didn’t think it was a good idea for two reasons. First, middle school students have such short attention spans and two, my administration (principal) was very negative about new and interesting ideas, the kind who frowned on anything new, unusual or outside what is considered the norm).

However, the first day of school I had five girls plus two additional sixth graders sitting on my doorstep asking, ‘OK can we start the club?’ I had to concede. And six years later the club is still going. Facing the burocracy and the negative attitude of some management, I anyway felt that whatever we did would be a positive if only from the perspective that the children were off the street, participating in an actual school club and feeling a part of something. On many occasions students stated to me that they felt like a part of their school for the first time ever. I believe that this actually helped these students become a closer group. There are no eligibility requirements, fees of ANY type, or anything that precludes a student from attending weekly meetings. This is why our membership grew from seven initially to about 50 at the height of its membership. In the words of one of the founders of the club, ‘This is all that some of us have that makes us feel special and be a part of something different”.

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The radio show has become the major activity of the club. I made a connection with Mr. Jim Diederich, known as Mr. D., at the local high school and made arrangements for the kids to do a weekly radio show called ‘The Bruce Springsteen Show’. I must add that Mr. D. has been an indispensable part of the club, and we wouldn’t be where we are without his contribution. In return he has benefited by having students arrive at his high school interested and, more importantly, more prepared to join his broadcasting program.

The kids choose from a list of available songs. There is a basic format we utilize where they have to choose a mixture of album cuts, alternative versions, cover songs, live songs and outtakes. Then they research something about each song. They look up funny trivia, stories, reviews, etc. about the songs. Then they script everything out and rehearse them. The students go live on the air. After the first show airs, we edit the show to remove minor goofs (usually Mr. D’s or my fault as the kids are generally flawless) and upload it to our school webpage.

If you check out the radio listings you will see the kids have undertaken some great causes through the radio shows,  I remember two girls who made an entire show dedicated to a local charity cause, ‘Lungs for Lisa,’ to raise money for a woman who needs a double lung transplant. They also did a special show for a school in South Africa. In the early part of the 2010-11 school year, we were contacted by a rock and roll station in Boone, North Carolina, which put the kids on the air for the weekly show on their commercial radio station in the time slot directly before ‘Little Steven’s Underground Garage’. The radio station eventually changed formats but the kids were big time for awhile.

The club also holds weekly meetings to work on radio shows where they socialize, take quizzes, listen to music, attempt karaoke, create t-shirts and do whatever other activities that we can come up with. But we have obviously done many other things, like go to four Bruce Springsteen concerts, two Railroad Earth concerts and concerts by Bruce tribute bands.

The radio show also enabled some of the club members to travel with you to New York City in April 2011 to tape several segments for SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s ‘ E Street Radio’ channel, which is dedicated to Bruce Springsteen 24/7.

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The trip to New York City is without a doubt the most beneficial thing that the club has done since its beginning. The 16 students of the club who were able to attend had never been to NYC prior to this trip, and most hadn’t ever left North Carolina, some not even Caldwell County. In many cases the same could be said of their parents. In fact, when I took the second group of kids to the Bruce concert in Greensboro, one parent said to me, ‘I don’t like Bruce, his music, his politics, or him in general but I am 35 years old and have never been to a concert, a sporting event or anything like that. I don’t want my kids to grow up like me, so they have permission to go.’

So culturally, the students were exposed to a big city that was almost overwhelming. Seeing such landmark sites as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ground Zero, Greenwich Village and the Statue of Liberty opened their eyes to things that just can’t be duplicated in a classroom. The museum alone provided the kids with centuries of knowledge through the artifacts on exhibition. One student commented that ‘After seeing all these places, I won’t even be able to watch television or the movies the same again; now they will seem real to me.’ Even such simple activities as experiencing a mode of transportation they had never been on before – the subway – was unique to them.

In addition, the students were also afforded the opportunity to visit Asbury Park, New Jersey, and this experience made everything come alive for the students, since many of Bruce’s songs pertain to this geographical area of the country.

And the satellite radio show: this gave them the most unique opportunity to be able to actually broadcast from a worldwide satellite station and showed them an aspect of media education in the professional world instead of just at the local level. The students used their writing skills and communication skills to work together to prepare each of the shows they broadcasted. In a really telling statement to the benefits of the trip, two students were discussing how they had changed and one stated, ‘We were constantly told that we’d be robbed or killed the first day in New York, but I felt as safe there as at home. I realized that I shouldn’t let the fear of the unknown hold me back from traveling and experiencing other places.’

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Not bad for a “simple” middle school club, ehn?

You can hear a few of the shows here:

 

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