Hip-Hop Therapy Stimulates Emotional and Academic Growth in Bronx Charter Students

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This isn’t an open mic night — these students at a Bronx charter school are actually part of CYPHER.

Not Cypher — the hip-hop word to describe a rap battle — but an acronym for Counseling Youth by Promoting Healthy Emotional Reflection, which uses hip-hop music to help students handle emotional issues and express themselves.

“To have a space in the school where you can get away from everything and process what you’re going through makes you more prepared to sit in the classroom,” said Ian Levy, a school counselor at New Visions High School for Advanced Math and Sciences.

Levy, a traditional musician who became immersed in hip-hop culture about eight years ago, uses this makeshift studio in a school office to help students sort through their feelings, put them down on paper and eventually turn them into a song. This hip-hop therapy isn’t just helping students emotionally, but also academically and socially.

“My grades have gone way up,” said junior Aylan Alcequiez. “It’s made me focus in school more.”

“When you have a teacher that never tells you ‘Oh you can’t say this or you can’t say that’ you just feel like you could say anything in the world,” said sophomore Chelsea Boakwee.

And by the end of every year Levy’s students end up creating at least one mixtape. Some of them even choose to share their music with the world.

They’ve each created an account with the digital music streaming platform SoundCloud. And Levy uses even that as an opportunity to counsel.

“What do they want to say about themselves if the world looks at their profile?” Levy said. “What do they want them to know, so there was a lot of identity development and building.”

Levy launched hip-hop therapy as afterschool program five years ago. It was so well received; he wrote a proposal to turn it into a full-fledged course, with credit. School administrators accepted the idea.

“It’s not something that it’s like this white guy came into this school and did this great work,” Levy said. “It’s like, yeah my work is dope, but my work is dope because I understand that hip hop is dope and I create a space for hip hop to be hip hop.”

Levy downplays his own role, saying it’s really the music that’s changing lives.


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