Hi! I’m Dawson Atkin, a Resident Teaching Artist serving in Queens, New York. I am a composer and songwriter, working in a wide variety of genres including contemporary concert music, musical theatre, and indie-folk. My interest in ArtistYear began after several of my friends served with AmeriCorps. I’d been interested in a service year since I graduated high school, and ArtistYear was a perfect way to share my skills and knowledge with those who otherwise might not have access. It felt important to me to give back to the communities where I could be of service.
I serve at P.S. 306Q, also known as the New York City Academy for Discovery, an elementary school in Woodhaven, Queens. Like much of Queens, Woodhaven is a majority-minority neighborhood. My students represent cultures from all over the world, especially representing Latin America and South Asia. It’s really been special to get to not only teach my students, but to learn just as much from them, especially about their cultures. Just recently, during Eid, my students were so excited to show me their henna tattoos and tell me all about their traditions.
Looking at my school, it’s easy to see its many strengths. The staff in particular are so dedicated to their students. I’m consistently impressed by their ability to care about each student as an individual, to know their names, their family members, and what their home life is like. Their attention for each student shows a real commitment to these kids.
My site supervisor at P.S. 306Q is the recently appointed dance teacher. It’s so inspiring to see the school increasing its commitment to the arts both through the introduction of a dance curriculum and by partnering with ArtistYear. On my first day, I was informed that the school hadn’t had any musical instruction in well over a decade.
My primary service modality is classroom instruction. Every week, I lead 17 music classes ranging from Pre-K to 5th grade and partner with other faculty members to schedule music within their classes. For each class, I create and lead my own lesson plans with the help of my partner teacher. Each lesson begins with a “song of the day,” which can be anything from noise metal to Ukrainian folk music to electropop. After listening, we debrief by talking about how the songs made us feel, the technical elements like what instruments we heard, and the cultural context for the song. I teach between four and six classes per day, and for any remaining periods, I assist my site supervisor with dance classes. While I don’t know anything about dance, I like to lead by example, and help engage with kids who might need one-on-one attention that day.
At the moment, I’m focusing on our upcoming dance and music festival, which will take place on June 7th. This is a collaboration with my site supervisor to present all the hard work the students have been doing to their families. Each class will perform, with Pre-K to 1st grade singing and 2nd through 5th grades dancing. It’s been so fun to highlight my younger students, and they are so cute! Their improvement since the beginning of the year is so huge, they’re doing a great job remembering lyrics, staying in time, and singing (roughly) on pitch. One big focus with young students is emphasizing the difference between singing and screaming, learning how to protect our voices, and how to control our bodies during a performance. All of this is applicable outside the music classroom too, with self-regulation being one of the most important skills for students in this age range to learn. I’m really looking forward to them showing off everything they’ve learned.
Over the course of this year, I’ve really seen my students expand their horizons regarding not only music, but their own social-emotional learning. Other teachers have remarked that music class brings out a different side of their students that they don’t usually get to see. What matters most to me is helping expose students to an art form that they may never have gotten to try, and then helping that become a passion for them. I hope that my students will continue to care about music, whether by listening in a more thoughtful way, by joining ensembles in middle and high school, or learning how to make music on their own. I’ve said since I started with ArtistYear that my main goal, more than teaching technical skills, has been to establish a love of music and music making in my students, and it has been a wonder to see that grow and develop in each and every one of my students.
Dawson Atkin is originally from Montgomery, Massachusetts and has had a passion for music since the age of 7. Dawson graduated from The University of Hartford with a bachelor’s degree in music composition. They are a composer who uses music to tell intimate, personal stories about identity and community.