Fullerton’s Orangethorpe Elementary rocks new arts curriculum

Students and staff from Orangethorpe Elementary School in the Fullerton School District recently got to rub virtual elbows with rock ’n’ roll royalty during a live-streamed chat about an arts education initiative.

Under Principal Dr. Ginger Frady, Orangethorpe has embraced the standards-aligned TeachRock curriculum championed by Steven Van Zandt, best known as the bandana-wearing guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The program, created with the help of a board that included Springsteen, Bono, Jackson Browne and Martin Scorsese, provides free resources and lessons that leverage the history of popular music and culture to engage students.

On Sept. 24, Frady appeared with Van Zandt on Little Steven’s Roadshow to discuss her school’s experiences with TeachRock. She was joined by Orangethorpe kindergarten teachers Katie Duchsherer and Alyssa Larnerd, as well as a pair of sixth-graders. Co-hosted by Drew Carey, the virtual talk show also featured actor Edward James Olmos, Joe Walsh of the Eagles and Robby Krieger of The Doors.

Screenshot of online broadcastVan Zandt, who also hosts a radio show and had a central role on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” said Orangethorpe is the first school to fully integrate TeachRock schoolwide. He was able to see the lessons first-hand when he visited the school in March, just days before campuses across the state shut down and pivoted to distance learning.

“That was one of the greatest moments of my life — I’m not exaggerating,” he told the principal. “I mean, it was like the fulfillment of a 15-year dream to see that it actually could work because it was kind of a theory up until you. You’re the one who made it real.”

“We put theory into action here,” Frady said cheerfully. She added that the challenge now is to keep the momentum of arts education going through distance learning.

Kindergarten teachers Duchsherer and Larnerd also spoke to the program’s ability to connect with young learners. Along with music, the lesson plans cover concepts related to social studies, language arts, geography and STEM.

As expected, one of the sixth-graders said she liked a lesson about Billie Eilish the best. Another student noted that there was no yawning during the TeachRock lessons and recalled an assignment that asked kids to create artwork connected to the lyrics of “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles.

“When things go back up running, I’m telling you, I’m bringing the whole world to Orangethorpe,” Van Zandt said. “I’m bringing everyone I know to witness this.”