Rhymes with Reason: Online tool brings hip-hop, literacy tools to students

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's literacy powered by your favorite artists.

When Austin Martin started the literacy tool, Rhymes with Reasons, he wanted to connect to people like him.

"It really stems from my childhood, I was student that for a long time in life was not academically inclined or interested particularly, but I was incredibly interested in hip-hop and lyrical music and I just had this connection that I felt to it," he said.

Martin said he loved hip hop music not only because it represented his culture but he felt a connection to the genius of the music he was listening to and he started studying everything he could about his favorite artists.

"As I got older, I started to see how the time I had spent with this music had started to carry over to my academic or curricular experience and I had a broader understanding for vocabulary and knack for figurative language," Martin said.

"When I combined all that together, I went from an 'ok' student to an above 4.0 GPA student, got accepted into Brown University and I never would've thought I would have gotten accepted to an Ivy League school, but I did."

It was while he was attending Brown, Martin had the idea to start Rhymes with Reasons. Now five years later, the 24-year-old just landed on the Forbes 30 under 30 list for education.

"I think it's a good idea because when people look at music, particularly hip-hop, that it's not teaching you anything and you can't learn but the truth is in the context," CCIE student Summer Myles said.

When Broom was looking for new cities to test the Rhymes with Reason demo, he reached out to the SocialWorks team about bringing it to Chicago.

"We had meetings with Austin on how our community would best interact with his portal and what we could do to add some flash, some SocialWorks sexy into it," said SocialWorks Executive Director Justin Cunningham. "We thought of the idea of creating a playlist with all these geniuses on it, these talented wordsmiths who were also from Chicago."

Austin and the SocialWorks team came up with a way to specifically appeal to students in the Chicago area, by creating "The Chicago Learning Playlist" that features only artists from the Windy City!

"I think it's a good idea because when people look at music, particularly hip hop, that it's not teaching you anything and you can't learn. But the truth is in the context," CCIE student Summer Myles said.

Currently, students with a Chicago zipcode are given priority registration. But students will have to hurry because spots are almost gone!

"It's combing something we can do together, instead of just sitting in front of somebody and them trying to force us to learn words that they know some kids really don't comprehend," CCIE student Makia Barnes said.

Rhymes with Reason and SocialWorks set a goal of getting 1,000 students to sign up for the app within a year.

"I've looked up a word before and the meaning still wasn't clear after four or five different examples," said CCIE student Channing Ratcliff, "Rhymes with Reason takes me to a song I like or an artist that's really popular and it gives me the context and I figured how to develop those skills."

"This could help with a lot of ideas using new words because kids will understand the meaning, and maybe even help people writing their own songs," said CCIE student Keion Carter.

HOW TO PLAY THE GAME|

The process is pretty simple, students create a vocabulary playlist based on words they don't know or their favorite artists.

Each word is then presented a flashcard-like slide where you can read the lyrics, hear the song sample and other sample sentences using the word.

Students are then given different comprehension exercises to test their knowledge of the new word.

At the end of each word, the student has the option to record him/herself spitting their own bar using the word. The challenge is not only make it rhyme but to also use the word correctly!

Students can save their recordings in the program and use them later to study their own phonetic flash cards.


But this is only the beginning!

"RWR has been adopted in close to 100 schools around the country, in bigger cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami and Detroit, Hampton, Virginia," said Martin.

"But it's not just about getting it adopted, it's about it being adoptive and effective."

Martin and the SocialWorks team have held demos around Chicago showing students and faculty on how the program works.

Students suggested adding gospel, R&B and other music genres to make the program more versatile.

The app is completely free and will work on any computer, tablet or iPhone.

"My north star, so to speak, is for this to be like the Spotify or Apple Music of education," said Martin. "For it to be a music streaming service and education learning tool as well."

Martin noted that fundamental changes in the U.S. education system have traditionally been slow at adoption, but said he's determined to be the one to keep knocking on doors.

"We've taken word acquisition methodology and literacy acquisition frame works and used that to underpin our concepts," he added.

Meanwhile, the SocialWorks team continues to introduce new programs aimed at supporting Cook County residents.

"We have five initiatives that vary but they're grounded in the youth and the human experience," said Cunningham." "Our Warmest Winter, Open Mike and Kids of the Kingdom programs help those short-term solutions like child care, or resources but we also want to focus on the long term horizon."

Cunningham said SocialWorks has introduced the New Chance Fund where they raised $4 million to be donated to 40 schools for day enrichment programs.

"It's investment in the teachers, it's an investment in the students, and in the community which that school's a part of," said Cunningham.

SocialWorks will also be launching a new technology portal My State of Mind, which will allow Cook County residents to access different mental health wellness providers.

Cunningham said the aim of the initiative is to start removing the stigma of seeking help for mental health.

"A lot of people think talk therapy is the only way to help your mental health or you have to go into the hospital, but we know that's not all there is," Cunningham said."There's a lot of people who want that peace and there are a lot of people who want to provide that, so we had the idea to put all of those people in the same place."

The portal will be showcased at SocialWorks' winter coat drive "A Night at the Museum" which takes place at the Museum of Science and Industry, Thursday, December 19.

The event supports SocialWorks' Warmest Winter initiative which focuses on providing direct support to people experiencing homelessness in Chicago.

Advance tickets can be purchased for $10 and the event will feature access to premium exhibits, live entertainment, raffles, and giveaways with about 70 local and national vendors.

"When the portal launches in March 2021, it'll be the largest guidebook of clinical and non-clinical mental health providers in Cook County," said Cunningham.

For more information on Rhymes with Reason please visit their website: www.rhymeswithreason.co/socialworks. For more information on SocialWorks or how you can get involved, visit their website: www.socialworkschi.org .
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