Percussionist Tony Vacca, a former Kearny resident, returned to his hometown recently and delivered some samples of the music of West Africa to a student audience at Franklin Elementary School.
Vacca, who attended Garfield Elementary School in Kearny before his family moved to the Jersey Shore, visited Franklin School on Oct. 11 at the invitation of Principal Yvonne Cali to help relaunch a celebration of its year-round Positive Behavior Support program.
The program’s motto is “Look SHARP!,” which represents the idea that students are “Sucessful when we are Helpful, Aware, Responsible, and Polite.”
Sponsored by the state Department of Education, the program focuses on “randomly rewarding” children’s attendance/achievement in the belief that “schools with a positive social climate are associated with fewer occurrences of conduct problems and better student performance outcomes,” said school psychologist Michael Emmons.
It seems to be working, at least on one level, said Emmons and Cali, as evidenced by the fact that last school year, there was a 30% drop in the number of “bad behavior” cases referred to the principal’s office.
As part of the program, Emmons said, teachers are trained to affirm students’ positive behavior, teach social skills, meet the needs of diverse learners and use “multi-setting interventions” to promote a positive school climate.
Vacca, who has studied music in West Africa, is the leader of the World Rhythms Ensemble. He has recorded and/or performed with pop icon Sting, jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and Senegalese Afro-pop star Baaba Maal. He also performed as a percussionist in the American opera, “Truth,” about Sojourner Truth, an African-American abolitionist of the 1800s.
During his stay at Franklin School, Vacca conducted a two-hour musical workshop, teaching children in grades 4 to 8 the basics of playing the various percussive instruments of Senegal, followed by the youngsters contributing to a performance by Bideew Bou Bess, a Senegal Afro-pop group.
The “Senegal-America Project,” as presented by Vacca and school officials, was aimed at promoting respect for “global citizenship,” as reinforced through music.
– Ron Leir