He's using music to educate!
Azel Prather is no stranger when it comes to innovative learning strategies in the classroom. As an elementary school educator in Washington, D.C., he has not only found fun ways to help his students retain information, but has supported them outside of academics. In 2019, Prather went viral after developing a self-care day for students just in time for the holidays. His "Holiday Hook-Up" brought in local barbers, hairstylists, and nail technicians, to pamper 40 of his kindergarten students to usher in holiday cheer.
"I believe if you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you do good. I just want them to feel good for the holidays," Prather told Because Of Them We Can at the time.
In 2020, when the pandemic hit, teachers, parents, and students were all struggling. Prather continued to create innovative ways to keep his little ones engaged, such as leading them in virtual dance parties via Zoom. He took to social media to share clips from his class, encouraging other teachers to keep pushing through no matter how difficult the new post-pandemic reality was.
"I know virtual teaching is hard, but there's always a creative way to get and keep them babies engaged! Start ya weekend off right with some joy," Prather wrote.
Outside of education, he continues to give back, hosting holiday drives for children in need and a regular marketplace for Black vendors in the D.C. community. He often invites his students and their families along for the ride. Now, Prather has done it again, releasing "Move With Mr. Prather," an educational hip-hop album for children featuring some of his students. It highlights parts of the early childhood curriculum like numbers, opposites, days of the week, and birthdays. Prather can be heard leading the children rapping and singing over infectious beats that will have parents and kids grooving. For the 31-year-old, it's as much about representation as it is education for his students.
"The inspiration for 'Move With Mr. Prather' came from there being a lack of us in the children's space. By us, I mean Black educators. I know a lot of teachers across the globe rely on YouTube and music for their children to learn, but I also know a lot of the time it's from people who don't look like us," Prather told BOTWC. "It's people appropriating our culture, monetizing off our likeness, and truly have no real passion for children. Yes, it's catchy, and yes, it may work, but it wasn't us. They needed real representation. Something not only the kids could relate to, but the parents as well."
Photo Courtesy of Azel Prather Jr.
The songs are designed to help elementary-aged children learn basic concepts, like vocabulary enhancement, comprehension, and analyzing skills through comparison. There are also social skills for kids available on the album. In the song "Manners," Prather raps about the importance of saying please and thank you and being friends over a trapped out beat that would rival any of today's hip-hop artists. A "Clean Up" song also encourages children to keep their spaces nice and tidy.
"Black children know music, rhythm, dancing, etc. It's in us! We've all been told that if we knew our schoolwork like we knew that song, then we'd have straight A's! Well, let's go get straight A's then. Let's know the music and our schoolwork at the same time. Sneak the medicine in the candy. You get to dance, sing, and learn too," Prather said.
All proceeds from the album sales will go back into his nonprofit, The Prather Foundation, whose mission is to help children and families who live in low-income, under-resourced areas. The educator says he plans to continue doing meaningful and impactful work that will help build the next generation of leaders and credits his team and the students featured on the album with helping him bring the vision to life.
"I believe the families we come across gain a sense of hope and empowerment. They know someone cares. Someone that feels them sincerely. Someone that looks like them, talks like them, walks like them. It's not charity work. It's simply doing the right thing. Helping our own. Doing the work," Prather said. "I just want to give a big thank you to Aja Sophia, Jeanelle Sales, Tae & TrapFactory Studios, and Montez Brenard for believing in the vision. Also, the students you hear singing with me in the songs, Tahj, Chloe, Morgan, Taylor, and Amar! I needed them all!"
The 8 song album is currently out, with Prather set to release accompanying music videos. He encourages all educators to continue to be innovative in their work and really service the needs of students.
"Find the lack. Find out what your kids need. I work in the early childhood space and know the tools that they need to be successful. Learn your children first. Connection over content," he exclaimed.
"Move With Mr. Prather" is currently available on all streaming sites. Click below to view the first music video off the album, "That's An Opposite."
Thanks for your work, Azel! Because of you, so many can!
Photos Courtesy of Azel Prather Jr.