Since the beginning of the school year at Harrison Park Middle School, one of the most dominant sparks for a majority of students has been music.

Some students play instruments, some of them sing or rap, some of them want to learn how to play instruments, and some of them just like listening to music. The common thread: music is one of their sparks because it helps them get out of bed in the morning and can sometimes make their day better.

In December, I contacted a local community member who was willing to guest speak and lead a workshop at the school. After being consumed with school work all day, I felt it was important for the students to get the chance to listen to someone from their community speak about his passion. The local community member was a young hip-hop artist who spoke about his personal experience of being influenced by his father’s love for hip-hop; for music’s ability, in general, to serve as an outlet; for music’s accessibility to anyone who desires it.

Those three aspects were especially significant because they had previously learned about finding sparks champions to help inspire and motivate them, they needed to learn various outlets help deal with challenging situations and emotions, and it emphasized that their access to music didn’t have to be limited.

The students were extremely engaged when the speaker showed his beats and then made one right in front of them. When it was their turn to make their own song, some of them were pretty timid about trying something new. We talked about how the only expectation was to try and that they can’t fail by expressing themselves. They all gave it a shot.

One group initially had trouble thinking of a subject for their song, but after I told them they could record a song for their teacher, they decided to rap about their class. They took the opportunity to be creative and brave. Our guest speaker was able to record them and make a loop that I forwarded to their teacher. Their teacher loved it so much that they played it during the class holiday party!

By Arielle Valdez
Middle School Site Manager, Harrison Park


Our Middle School Program is generously supported by the Portland Children’s Levy, which was created by city voters in 2002. The Portland Children’s Levy invests in programs designed to help children arrive at school ready to learn, provides safe and constructive after-school alternatives for kids, prevent child abuse, neglect and family violence, help foster kids succeed and mitigate childhood hunger.