Rock ‘n’ Roll Elective Strikes a Chord at Averill Park High School

Averill Park High School has introduced an electrifying elective that is not only making the students tap their feet but also immersing them in a rich, rhythmic history. Nicole Monroe, the brain and heart behind the creation of a Rock ‘n’ Roll class, intertwines her passion for music with a desire to educate and inspire the next generation of musicians and music aficionados.

Monroe’s music journey is personal and deeply rooted. “My father is a drummer and has played in multiple bands from the age of 14,” she recounts. Her involvement with music, from sleeping in bathtubs during her father’s tour in the early 70s to being an active performer in a rock and roll band for over 12 years, has fundamentally shaped her perspective on the art and its impact. Notably, Monroe performs in a band named Hot Cousin, whose music ethos she describes as an “original cover band” because they embrace and channel their style into every song they play.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

She underscores the integral role of rock ‘n’ roll in understanding music evolution and history, stating, “Besides being able to understand the history and progression of music in general, just being exposed to this music is important.” Monroe’s class isn’t just a history lesson but an exploratory space where students are encouraged to “nerd out” on a beloved song or discover the intricate tapestry of musical influences and changes throughout decades.

Developing the curriculum for this distinctive class, Monroe leaned into her English teaching background and discovered TeachRock, a resource-rich platform founded by Steven Van Zandt, which provided valuable material to bring the spirit and history of rock ‘n’ roll into schools. Her perspective that “anything can be an English class” opened up a plethora of possibilities to weave together history, experiential learning, and an exploration of a multifaceted music genre.

The relevance of rock ‘n’ roll is elegantly intertwined with pivotal moments and movements in history in Monroe’s curriculum. She emphasizes, “Music is part of the fabric of all history – as a reaction or an ignition.” Through this lens, students traverse through epochs, understanding how rock ‘n’ roll either gave rise to or was influenced by major historical events.

One innovative and hands-on approach Monroe employs is a ‘mixed tape’ project. Reflecting on her own experiences from the 80s and 90s, she encourages students to dive into the tactile and thoughtful process that went into creating mixtapes. This endeavor, she believes, is not merely about curating songs but crafting portable stories with music – a tradition now largely lost in the age of digital streaming.

Diverse influences and the universal appeal of rock ‘n’ roll are crucial elements addressed in the course. Monroe acknowledges, “Rock and Roll is for everyone – it celebrates everything – the flaws and the victories.” Engaging dialogues with students about the inclusivity and diverse roots of rock ‘n’ roll are central to her teaching strategy, aiming to embrace the stories created by humans from all walks of life.

Even amidst potential generational musical gaps, Monroe observes a wide-ranging musical interest among her students. She points out that they like “all kinds of music” and demonstrates genuine interest in learning about unknown genres or artists. “Music is truly all connected- you just have to want to find out how,” Monroe affirms, pinpointing her role in fostering a curiosity and connection among her students to varied musical expressions.

Looking ahead, Monroe envisages numerous prospects for her course, including potential collaborations with local venues and introducing her students to live music experiences. “I plan on bringing musicians and music historians in as well,” she shares, expressing a desire to also create a space that enables high school students to experience live music in non-bar settings or at more affordable rates.

Despite her passion and the apparent early success of the course, Monroe is mindful of the potential challenges, such as ensuring that each lesson resonates with every student, acknowledging that “sometimes things might not strike a chord in every student.”

Measuring success, in Monroe’s perspective, goes beyond the mere accumulation of facts about rock ‘n’ roll. Her aspiration is to mold lifetime music fans, potential players, and individuals who maintain an open-minded approach to various music genres. She cherishes the hope that her students will forever be influenced by the history and art of rock ‘n’ roll and, who knows, perhaps one day acknowledge that their musical journey was sparked in a high school Rock ‘n’ Roll class.

In this innovative course, students and teacher alike embark on a melodious journey, discovering, questioning, and appreciating the pulsating beats of rock ‘n’ roll. Nicole Monroe’s rock ‘n’ roll elective is not just a class; it’s an experience, a time capsule, and perhaps, most importantly, a shared space where every chord, lyric, and rhythm tells a story waiting to be discovered by inquisitive young minds.

1 Comment
  1. Adam Stewart says

    What a great idea for a high school course!

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