An Extraordinary Playlist

Forget about traditional music categories of artists or decades or genres—Middle School music teacher Amy Southerland has been creating playlists inspired by the Middle School virtue of the month. Each month, the Middle School designates a specific virtue as a way to foster more deliberate and purposeful reflection about honesty, kindness, inclusion, integrity and a host of other traits that improve our day-to-day interactions with one another. Whether in advisory, town hall meetings, or simply at lunch, students have a chance to reflect about what a given virtue means and how it might look in ordinary life. In class, they may explore examples of that virtue in history and literature.
In September, Southerland added a new component to the program, giving each virtue its own walk-up music. Every Monday, from 7:45 to 8:14 (one minute before advisory officially begins), music from Southerland’s playlist floats out of a portable speaker to greet students in grades six through eight as they head into Conover and begin a new week of school. While the music is playing, Southerland is on hand to offer each student a small reminder of that month’s virtue. One Monday in October, she marked the virtue collaboration by giving every student a colorful sticky note as a reminder to stick together, adding as she pasted them on jackets and book bags, “Remember, we’re all in this together!” For empathy—January’s virtue—students received bookmarks with the lyrics to “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” and Band-Aids to remind them that other people may be hurting.
Beyond capturing the virtue, Southerland’s criteria for the playlists are simple: songs can reflect a range of styles as long as most of the music is somewhat familiar to the students and the content is age-appropriate. Beyond that, she is partial to upbeat songs that create positive energy and—according to students and faculty alike—make it that much easier to come back to school after the weekend. “I think it is really important to have songs that the students and faculty recognize,” she says. “When you hear a song that you know and like, you immediately feel included. You feel more at home.”
And speaking of virtues, how about sharing those playlists? “Happy to,” says Southerland with a smile.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.