This musician with a love for kids brings health and hope to a Texas school for homeless children.
Rhythm of Life
Every day, more than 100 homeless children find refuge at the Vogel Alcove School in Dallas, Texas. Often developmentally delayed as a result of the struggles their families face, the children come from 17 shelters around the city. At the school, they are fed, loved, taught and nurtured with the goal of getting them on track developmentally.
Last summer, Lee Johnson, a graduate student in the Department of Health Science, brought his gift of music to these children through an independent study experience under the supervision of department chair Dr. David Birch.
At Vogel, Johnson combined his education and talents to explore ways in which music could help improve the preschoolers’ self-regulation and social and emotional health. He brought the children simple rhythm instruments like drums, shakers and bells, and taught them how to use them. Then he began to make up songs with lyrics that helped teach the kids basic developmental skills. On song teaches the simple social skill of greeting others. As they sing, “You can shake my hand/Or look in my eyes/Or give me a big high five,” they act out the greetings with their friends and teachers.
Johnson has always loved music and children. After studying music education at Shelton State Community College and music therapy at The University of Alabama, he earned his bachelor of science in early childhood education in December 2014. Moved by an interest in the connection between music and health, he entered the Master of Arts in Health Studies program, where he enrolled in the independent study that led him to Vogel Alcove.
“There is a great deal of research about music as treatment,” Johnson says. “I want to explore music in a preventative health sense, positively impacting children’s social and emotional health.”
He says one of the most valuable things his independent study experience taught him was the importance of establishing a relationship with the preschoolers. “In fact,” he says, “I spent the first three weeks simply getting to know the children, and allowing them to get to know me. I learned that in order to be able to teach them, I first had to build a foundation. Only then did I begin to address their needs.”
Johnson’s remarkable work at the school earned him a national endorsement as a Level I Infant and Family Associate by the Texas Association of Infant Mental Health (now known as First3Years). He is committed to maintaining his relationship with Vogel and the children, and has visited the school once a month since his independent study ended in August 2015. His goal is to pursue a doctorate in health education and health promotion so he can continue to follow his passion at the highest levels.