educator and several students seated in a circle beating on a drumFor eight Fridays, from October to December, a special group of Kilby Elementary School fifth graders took time out of their day to grow in leadership, relationship skills, and self-awareness by taking rhythm training on the Djembe drum. It all started when Vicky Castro, school social worker for Kilby and Jenkins Elementary Schools, heard about the training sessions being offered at T. Clay Woods Elementary School to learn how to lead a DRUMBEAT music program. DRUMBEAT is an evidence-based social, emotional, and leadership-skills-learning program that uses a combination of five core elements to build healthy social interactions and emotional learning, social connection, and development of supportive relationships to empower individuals.

Castro, who took the training at T. Clay Woods, says she loves drumming and took a few private lessons on the Djembe drum before starting her first group at Kilby this school year. She and Marissa Payne, professional school counselor at Kilby, met once a week for 45-minutes with seven fifth-grade students, introducing the three basic drum strikes: bass, tone, and slap. These are the guidelines the group developed: be kind, be respectful to others, have a good attitude and gratitude, be safe, and treat others as you want to be treated.

"The students immediately began to see their leadership potential and use positive language," said Castro. "The guidelines are not the typical rules students come up with when they are asked to develop rules for a class or group. The positive message of DRUMBEAT sets the student up for thinking positively about themselves and sets them up for success."

Castro said she could clearly see the students' discovery of self-awareness and personal growth as they practiced various lessons together and discussed how each made them feel. For example, identifying and overcoming their responses to stress, such as when one drummer attempts to keep a beat while his peers use various means to try to interrupt his rhythm. T. Clay Wood's Principal Andrew Buchheit, who brought the DRUMBEAT program to PWCS in 2018-19, said his school has used it with a number of different groups the last two years and has seen students grow socially and learn to make better choices.

As a final performance, the drummers have asked to perform for a kindergarten class so that they can show the younger students what they have learned.