Young Alumni Spotlight: Elza Crocco

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Where Shakespeare Meets Will Smith: The Melding of Music and Academics in Elza Crocco’s Classroom at Soulsville

She’s got soul, but she’s not a soldier.  Echoing the chorus made famous by the band known as The Killers, Elza Crocco, a 2007 Rhodes graduate who majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, pours her passion for youth and literature into her ninth-grade Language Arts teaching position at The Soulsville Charter School, where music and academics are melded together.  In its mission, Soulsville promises to “produce students who will be able to read, communicate effectively and possess high-order thinking skills through the interconnectedness of academics and music.”  According to Elza, “the school’s undeniable commitment to its children is what keeps it alive.”

This desire to see her students succeed also informs every aspect of Elza’s holistic teaching philosophy.  In her classroom experience, Elza has noticed that strictly “traditional” methods of evaluating students’ progress (such as tests, essays, quizzes) “have a tendency to ostracize certain students,” those most likely to slip through the cracks.  In order to remedy this problem, Elza constantly seeks methods of learning and assessment that measure “true understanding,” since “a student’s poor performance on a test or essay may not be an accurate indication of his or her inherent understanding.”  In one instance, she imbued renewed relevance into a familiar Renaissance play by asking her students to apply their understanding of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to another context.  In response, “some translated the premise of the play into alternate texts, some used only lyrics from songs, others rewrote the act as though it were being communicated via text message, and others simply applied ‘slang.’”
While Soulsville encourages but does not require its teachers to include musical instruction in their curriculum, Elza knows that “music just so happens to be a subject most of our kids embrace."  She testifies to the way that the strong presence of music on campus benefits her as well: “There have been days when I have been close to my wits’ end, yet hearing the sounds of The Soulsville Symphony Orchestra rush through the hallways inspires and rejuvenates me.”  Elza has capitalized on music’s broad appeal by inviting her students to bring their instruments and perform an essay set to song.  Her students have also studied popular artists such as Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, Common, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mayne, and Will Smith in order “to understand the multi-dimensionality of figurative language.”  Elza also selects songs “to inspire [her] students, helping them to connect with new feelings and thoughts.”

In that way, Elza’s classroom serves as a forum where her students are encouraged to process their insights, to talk about things they do not understand or things they love.  Elza observes: “Facilitating stimulating discussions is a powerful teaching tool.  I give credit to my Rhodes professors for teaching me how to think and how to discuss.”  In addition to allowing them free expression, Elza especially aims to make her students feel valued in her classroom: “I try to demonstrate true love and concern for my students.  Most of them don’t have enough of that, and I think if they should learn anything from their teachers, it’s that they all deserve to be cared for.”  Just as their music revitalizes Elza as it echoes down the halls, her genuine concern for her students and their success will surely continue to reverberate in their lives as well.

Emily Broocks ′09