by Johann Calhoun, for Chalkbeat
[Pictured above] Fatou Thioune and Julyssa Pelliton, both juniors at Hill-Freedman Academy, participated with 58 of their classmates in producing the album “Love & Healing.”
The past two years have been anything but normal for Philadelphia students as COVID-19 has shaken their world.
District schools were forced to close in March 2020 due to the pandemic and shifted to virtual learning for 18 months. Most recently, almost half of the schools in Philadelphia were forced to go remote due to staff shortages caused by the omicron variant.
“The whole idea of the album is about love and healing, living with COVID, and how everybody needs to lift up each other and work together and to make sure each other is alright,” said 11th grade student Julyssa Pelliton. “I just wanted to come up with a message that will influence them to do something positive.”
The album is a component of the school’s International Baccalaureate, or IB program, where students are required to create music. The project involved 60 students who made up the entire 10th grade class when they began working on the album and are now juniors. School leaders, artists from World Cafe Live, and fellows from the national service initiative ArtistYear and WHYY Media Labs also lent a hand.
Hill-Freedman, located at 1100 East Mt. Pleasant Ave. near Mount Airy, is a special admission middle and high school.
“Our music hopes to meet a need in our community as we focus on the importance of more love and healing after a year of virtual learning and navigating through the pandemic,” said Thurman. “In difficult times, music can help us heal.”
The school’s recording studio, Hill-Freedman Records, was founded by Thurman in 2016 and is run by students. This year’s album is the school’s fifth, but viewed as its most significant due to the pandemic.
The biggest hurdle for the students was recording and producing the album over the 2020-2021 year when Philadelphia schools moved to remote learning – and fears of COVID kept some students out of the recording studio.
“Not everybody’s voice is in the album, but they do contribute. The pandemic definitely made school harder,” Pelliton said. “And I’m very surprised that we did this whole album online. That was very cool to me.”