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Otha Day issues challenge to Lenox students: Keep the rhythm By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff,

posted Sep 2, 2014, 1:00 PM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

LENOX -- Sometimes, the percussion resonated like a steady heartbeat through the school's gymnasium.

At others, it was noisy and chaotic, with kids hitting each others' instruments or yelling over each other.

The approximately 400 students of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School were challenged to keep drum rhythms in harmony with one another Friday during an assembly led by local percussionist Otha Day.

Principal Michael Knybel is hoping that the school can find and keep its own steady, unified rhythm throughout the year.

"The theme for this afternoon's assembly is unity through diversity, along with school and a commitment to learn," he said. "If they can do this, then they'll strengthen each other."

Last spring, through the efforts of school leadership teams of students, staff, parents and community members and a newly formed partnership with Multicultural BRIDGE, Lenox Memorial began a campaign to build a more positive school climate and foster stronger relationships between teachers, staff and students.

The school also adopted a "Character Counts" curriculum created by the Josephson Institute's Center for Youth Ethics. That program, adopted by other schools in the Berkshires, focuses on educating young people about its fundamental "Six Pillars of Character:" Trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

These pillars have manifested into a colorful sculpture and a banner that can be seen upon entering the school.

"When we surveyed the students last spring, they wanted not to be judged. So we created a ‘judgment free zone' that will remind students every day when they come in that this is what they wanted," Knybel said.

Throughout the year, with support from BRIDGE and among its own committees, the school will bring in presenters and promote activities around issues like building compassion; discussing racism and gender identity; understanding poverty and why there are "haves and have nots."

"Our goal is to help them continue what we started last year," said Gwendolyn VanSant, co-founder and executive director of Multicultural Bridge. "The school is strong in academics, but needs work in building socioemotional connections."

"I hope it will bring us into more of a community in sense of the school," said Charlotte Cahillane, who serves as a senior class officer, along with Rishabh Kedia.

Lenox Memorial Middle and High School students participate in a Pep Rally with Otha Day on Friday.
Lenox Memorial Middle and High School students participate in a Pep Rally with Otha Day on Friday. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff /

Cahillane said sometimes it can seem like there's "a lack of school spirit" at Lenox Memorial, in part due to the fact that the school's nickname for its sports teams is "The Millionaires."

"Sometimes we get made fun of because of it," she said.

"I hope that we can become a more integrated community," Kedia said.

During Friday's drumming program, Otha Day worked to create a rhythmic chant using the school's name, and a call-and-response song, highlighting the school colors of maroon and gold.

Class officers from grades 7 and 12 sat side-by-side with faculty, drumming core rhythms, while the rest of the students and faculty added layers with shakers and tubular plastic percussion instruments known as Boomwhackers. They sang a West African song called "Funga Alafia," which is sung to welcome people into a community.

"Look around at the people around you. You are a community," Day said. "You're going to spend the next year supporting and loving them and helping them through the year. If you see someone struggling, say to them, ‘Do you need a hand?' "

To reach Jenn Smith:,
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