South Row Elementary Books We've Read

South Row Elementary Students Learning Culture and History Through Music

South Row Elementary Books We've ReadAmanda Cooper’s ‘Books We’ve Read’ project exposes students to countless genres of music

CHELMSFORD, MA (Oct. 19, 2022) – The wall outside the South Row Elementary School music room is a rather colorless, barren off-white. Music educator Amanda Cooper, however, is looking forward to filling it with a colorful mix of book covers – lots of them – before too long.

With a passion for children’s literature, Ms. Cooper has introduced an incentive for each of her classes: when they have completed a book, the book cover is added to the wall outside the music room. Her classes are off to a strong start with 13 titles on the wall already.

“We end with a book every class, usually with illustrations that go along with songs,” said Ms. Cooper, in her 10th year at South Row. “I thought it would be great to see how many books we can read and how diverse the topics are. I wanted something that would carry throughout the year.”

Behind the Books We’ve Read wall project are themes. With National Spanish Heritage Month from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, South Row students read “Tito Puente: Mambo King,” about the Latin jazz musician; and “My Name Is/Me Llamo Celia,” about the life of Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz. Students read all three books in English and Spanish.

Periods dedicated to cultural heritage as well as cultural holidays make for the ideal addition to the South Row reading list. “We use it to enhance what we’re doing,” Ms. Cooper said.

With Diwalli, the Hindu Festival of Lights on Oct. 24, Ms. Cooper’s students will read “Binny’s Diwali.” Over Native American Heritage Month in November, she has titles such as “Red Bird Sings,” “My Heart Fills With Happiness,” and “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” earmarked for her students.

Earlier in the year, each of Ms. Cooper’s classes read “Alphabreaths” by Christopher Willard, which teaches young students mindful breathing (she has since had correspondence with Mr. Willard, who resides outside of Boston). A vital component while singing, Ms. Cooper has used breathing techniques from “Alphabreaths” to open her classes and to re-focus when minds wander.

Regarding the “Books We’ve Read” project, Ms. Cooper doesn’t have a numeric goal in mind. She is simply hopeful that her 464 students will appreciate the culture and history behind them.

“I’m lucky that I get to see every student in the whole school,” Ms. Cooper said. “Not everybody gets to touch that many kids’ lives. I like using children’s literature in my classroom and lessons to reinforce music skills and ideas, but also to introduce students to cultural, biographical, and historical information as it relates to the Massachusetts music standards and the content I’m teaching.”

Ms. Cooper is currently developing a seminar for the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) about children’s literature in the music classroom.

A native of North Reading, Mass., Ms. Cooper is an alumna of UMass Lowell, where she earned her undergraduate degree in 2010 and master’s degree in 2011. She lives in Chelmsford.


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