Beaufort News

Musician, students craft new school song at Lady's Island Elementary

In a music classroom at Lady's Island Elementary school, fourth-graders gather in a circle. They roll their shoulders and bounce a bit, making sure their knees aren't locked as they begin to sing.

When they're told to cluck like a chicken, they start to giggle.

The fourth-graders are working with musician Elise Witt, who encouraged them to learn through music this week. She's taught them several international songs and a little sign language in her cross-curriculum approach.

"If you are really learning and teaching, you're always involved in every subject," Witt said. Students are sharpening their language-arts skills as they discuss rhythm and rhyming. They're discussing science concepts, such as evaporation and erosion, that are incorporated into the songs. She's even used songs to teach math skills.

But this is different from other residency programs Witt has done across the country for 20 years. At Lady's Island Elementary, Witt and the fourth-grade students are writing a new school song.

"A school song, for me, is not just about 'Ra! Ra!' " Witt said. "It's about 'What is the environment, what is our culture, who are the people who are here?'"

With that in mind, the song incorporates references to local land forms, wildlife and the Gullah culture -- including some Geechee words.

Students began with brainstorming words that came to mind when they thought about Lady's Island and the Lowcountry. They've learned about the rhythm of words, and worked to create phrases that rhyme and fit the song's beat.

Witt has edited the students' work into 11 verses and a chorus.

"A lot of it is them. I'm an editor and a spark to get things going," Witt said.

Ellie Payne, 9, said that's what she's enjoyed most about working with Witt.

"This isn't grownups telling us what to write," she said.

Jack Dangerfield, 10, said he's enjoyed working on the song, which he thinks will be an important symbol of their school.

"I like singing with her because it's fun," Jazmin Smalls, 9, said. "She's easy to collaborate with."

Witt views the work as collaboration, too. She said she's learned a lot from the students about Gullah culture; it inspired her to visit The Penn Center to learn more in her free time.

"It's so rich, beautiful and interesting. ... It's thrilling for me to be here in the midst of it and to have kids in classes that come from it," Witt said.

The students performed the song with Witt at a school-wide assembly Friday and will do so again at 6 p.m. Saturday as part of the StreetMusic on Paris Avenue concert in Port Royal.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at