When Rodney Gipson started working at Morris Innovative High School this year, he did not know the extent of the impact his teaching and mentorship would have on the lives of students in his music classes.
From his direction in the music program comes the first ever performing choir, known as the "Heart of Morris." Its first performances spread holiday cheer around the community through shows at the school, Westwood and Wood Dale Healthcare Center.
Gipson said the students see the class as more of a family. "I've taught them art of singing together...joining their voices as one to achieve completeness," he explained. "As a result, they've learned to rely and depend on each other and, in essence, form long-lasting relationships with each other."
Gipson said his class leaders, Jacky Barrientos, Lizbeth Maganua and Cheyanne Ammerson, have been a huge help, and the school administration has also been a tremendous support.
Students are quick to agree. Ammerson, in particular, said the Heart of Morris changed her life. "I transferred to Morris at the beginning of the year to try and get a fresh start, but I was still the biggest trouble maker. But, this class and this group of people led me on the right track."
Ammerson explained that music allowed her to tell her story. She learned discipline through it and is now a leader. She sees the influence the group is having on her grades, her involvement in other classes and even in her family life.
"I don't know where I'd be without Mr. Gipson," she said. "I just love these people."
The choir performed several holiday songs, including "The Little Drummer Boy," "Mistletoe," and "Feliz Navidad." Ammerson even put together an original, more upbeat arrangement of "Do You See What I See" for the students to perform.
"The classic version is a little boring, and I knew we would be performing for kids so I wanted to make sure we kept their attention," said Ammerson. "I added some twists and some bass to bring it to life."
Ammerson is not the only one who has seen herself grow. More than half of the students in the class are in the Newcomers Academy and therefore do not speak fluent English. Learning the songs for the choir has helped them overcome the language barrier in a unique way, while also giving them a higher level of confidence.
Barrientos said going to Mr. Gipson's class is what she looks forward to every day. "These girls and guys have become my family. Being in choir has taught me how to interact and open up," she said. "My grades have improved because I know it affects my entire group."
She also said that they have learned to help each other overcome the language barrier. "I've acted as a translator, but really, in here, we are all one."
Look for upcoming Heart of Morris performances on the DPS calendar.