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Far Rockaway Principal Looks to Bring Pride Back Through Art and Music

By Katie Honan | March 27, 2016 6:18pm
 Principal Shawn Rux of MS 53 released another music video featuring his students,
Principal Shawn Rux of MS 53 released another music video featuring his students, "Motivate."
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Life Changing Music

FAR ROCKAWAY — When Shawn Rux became the principal of MS 53 in 2011, he inherited a school that had, for years, been failing. 

The school had an 'F' grade, teachers were leaving and student attendance was abysmal.

Worst of all, he said, the school lacked any sense of pride — which was a large barrier in trying to improve it.

But he wanted to change that, and he got to work implementing special programs, including raffles for kids who come to school and "Rux Bux," which rewards students who do well.

He also began a strong performing arts curriculum, setting aside two hours a day for students to participate in cartooning, dance, step and movie production.

There's also Life Changing Music, an after-school program where students can make beats and write songs.

Through that group, Rux and his students have created songs and music videos to show their school's pride. 

There was "Swagger," which stands for "students who achieve good grades earn respect."

They then released "53 Swag," featuring students, teachers, NY1 anchor Cheryl Wills and Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC in the video.

Rux was inspired to create his most recent song, "Motivate," after the death of eighth-grader Wilta Wordsworth, who was shot and killed inside her apartment last September.

When it came time to write a song, he kept thinking of what happened to her.

"That was what was resonating in my head. The song just kind of came out from that thought," he said.

"Instead of always trying to tear each other down, it's important to build each other up."

DNAinfo asked Rux how he has harnessed the power of the arts to help his students succeed and what still remains to be done.

► On how he convinced Dres of Black Sheep to appear in his video:

"We had an all-boys forum that we hold every year, where we separate our boys from girls. We invited men from all over to come share stories of success and failure, to give them a clear picture of [how] the choices they make today impacts their futures.

"Dres from Black Sheep was one of our guests at last year's forum, and I was trying to get him to do a cameo in "53 Swag" video. He couldn't do that video but said, 'look, whatever you work on next year let me know and I'll be glad to be a part of it' — probably not thinking I would hold him to it.

"It was tough to finally make it work because he was so busy, but he was perfect. We knocked the song out out."

On using art to bring pride back to MS 53:

"When I first became principal back in 2011, one of my immediate concerns were [that] there were no real art programs for our students to take advantage of. I made a very strategic effort to bring as many artists as we could, to give them multiple options for art activities for them to be involved with.

"Every Wednesday is a performing arts day for two hours. Our students participate in cartooning, dance, step, movie production. One of the programs is Life Changing Music. That's the program where our students have an opportunity to create music, write songs, create original beats, production. Then we make videos based on that.

"We put out a CD every year. We put on this big May Day Adventure show in the schoolyard, where we get a big stage and we highlight the kids' work."

On the work that still needs to be done:

"Our school has had a negative reputation for a very long time. I remember getting here and there was no sense of pride. Nobody was happy about being a student at MS 53.

"I thought we could change that. You can be happy to be a student at MS 53. Now I see kids wearing our shirts Monday through Sunday, and they wear their shirts with pride. They're happy to be a part of MS 53. We're creating something unique to us.

"And we still have a ton of challenges, but we're building a family of people who really believe in the impossible. I know that that's part of the work, part of the work is really believing in the impossible.

"When you see so much negativity around you, not only do you become normal to it, you think it's the norm. We can't let people think it's the norm.

"The world is just so big and there's opportunities for everyone as long as we support each other. We're trying to start that work here.

"I tell the students, 'The real world is hard, whether you do the right thing or the wrong thing. But it's going to be a little less hard if you focus on your education.'"