Next week the Harding Middle School Wolfpack will be front and center for the Northside’s Speak Up Against Violence Walk. The event will take place before North High School’s homecoming football game against Hoover. Besides banners and placards the marchers will carry 24 balloons to symbolize the 24 homicides (so far) in Des Moines this year. The city is on pace to establish a dubious municipal record. In 1978 there were 27 homicides, the most ever. Des Moines had 13 homicides in all of 2016.
The community is welcomed to participate in the walk. The event will get underway at 5:15 next Friday, October 6, gathering at the southwest corner of North High before parading up 6th Avenue. Participants will be back to North in time for the opening kick-off. (While the Polar Bears and Huskies might be rivals that night on the football field, both schools along with their middle schools – Harding, Goodrell and Meredith – are participating in the effort.)
Earlier this year the police and community leaders announced a plan to offer rewards as an encouragement for people to come forward with information to help stem the crime wave, but that hasn’t yielded the desired results as many of the 2017 cases remain unsolved.
Enter community activist/rap artist Will Keeps, whose latest video features a brave, young hero who steps forward to tell what she knows after witnessing a drive-by shooting that kills an innocent girl.
Harding Arts Integration Specialist Cassie Kendzora developed a lesson plan that serves multiple purposes by using Keeps and his work to dovetail with elements in the coming of age classic novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
So the walk on October 6th is not a standalone event. It supplements a unit of study.
“I co-planned this lesson with 8th grade literacy teachers Kathleen Steffen, Mark Shirbourn, Joel Hayden and Cara Lichty and musician Will Keeps,” Kendzora said. “We work to engage students with an artist in residence and explore arts, social justice and civic engagement. This model aligns with the Urban Leadership Course designed and instructed by Emily Lang and Kristopher Rollins at Central Campus.”
The lesson plan, as well as preparations for the community event, is being shared with North, Hoover, Meredith and Goodrell. Besides carrying the civic message of working with law enforcement instead of deferring to street justice, the curricular elements fit the district’s Schools for Rigor template with emphasis on daily learning targets and student-driven classroom activities. The arts integration piece presents students with a range of alternative ways to demonstrate learning, from hip-hop music to visual arts to dance.
Keeps has received The Community Service Award from the Des Moines Police Department for his anti-violence efforts in the community and schools. His latest production, Droppin’, includes cameos by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, Chief of Police Dana Wingert and DMPS Chief Schools Officer Matt Smith.
Keeps was at Harding on Wednesday leading workshops in the 8th grade literacy classes.
You could have heard a tear drop in Room 127 while the video played. But it led to lively discussions afterwards. In groups of four (each one consisted of a facilitator, a regulator, a recorder and a critic) students developed questions for the visiting artist whose work they’d just observed. Keeps kept his cool and answered them all. With just a few minutes left he turned the tables on his hosts.
“Now we’re gonna have some fun,” he announced, pulling out a children’s book, Llama, Llama, Mad at Mama. The Llama Llama series is way below grade level for 8th graders. But if you put a beat behind it and read it in rap, it IS fun.