MEMPHIS, Tenn. - If geometry makes more sense set to hip-hop, KIPP Diamond Academy's got it covered.
And history, and science and language arts. Need some help believing you're headed to college? There's an assist for that, too.
This summer, the energy kicked into overdrive as the KIPP Diamond students heard for the first time their homemade chants professionally set to music, digitized and ready to download to MP3 players and iPhones.
"I was excited because I knew we made the chants but I didn't know we were that good," said Makayla Jones, 12.
If students know the chants, they will "guide them to the right answer," she said.
"Read a book before I go to bed. ... Keep the knowledge floating in my head. ... That's what scholarship is all about. ... By 9:45 all the lights are out. Rise early so I won't be late. ... Make that move from good to great."
Businessman and impresario Mark Giannini may have launched a rocket. KIPP, one of the most successful charter companies in the nation, uses chants to help students in every grade remember facts in every subject.
But until now, there was no way to make them portable, or such a point of pride.
"We helped memorialize them," said Giannini, smiling broadly, his words lost in the ruckus of fifth-graders rapping and clapping their class chant in a contest judged by Memphis rapper Al Kapone, among others.
Because KIPP nationwide uses chants in the classroom, there's reason to think what is rolling out at KIPP Diamond could be replicated at KIPP campuses around the country.
With backing from Giannini and Malcolm Bundey, CEO of Memphis beverage packaging company Evergreen Packaging, 60-plus academic chants will be set to music this year.
"Repetitive sounds and music have been part of learning, way back to e-i-e-i-o," said Ken Steorts, college founder and president of Visible School, a music and worship arts college in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of Memphis, where the chants will be produced.
"Hip-hop is perfect for these chants. These songs will become their pop music and help them learn history, math and geometry."
Over three years, a team of Visible vocalists and production majors will compose the instrumental tracks and embed them beneath the student voices.
"We're looking at 1,000 man hours for 60 chants," Steorts said.
Next week, Kapone will be the lead vocal on the school's theme, "Diamond Boom."
It and two others, "Mission and Vision" and "Geometry Step" will be ready for download within days.
Locally, Memphis school board member Rev. Kenneth Whalum is heading a movement to encourage school leaders to harness hip-hop power in the classroom.
"Hip-hop is not the enemy; the hypocrisy is," said Whalum, author of "Hip-Hop is not our Enemy: From a Preacher Who Keeps it Real."
Building on its influence in students' lives, Whalum says, could improve learning, "if teachers were freed up to be creative" in tying the urban-culture rhythm to curriculum and teaching methods.
Meanwhile Kirk Smith, Visible School instructor assigned to the project, is amazed at the breadth and the talent in the student work.
"I hear Memphis-style southern hip-hop and East Coast style in their work," he said. "I don't know where they are hearing the East Coast music. It's not played on local radio.
"These kids know the culture better than we do, and now they are using it to teach each other."
Copyright 2010 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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