Highland Park teacher uses music to teach life lessons

Highland Park teacher uses music to teach life lessons to students

Posted: Updated:
HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (WJBK) -

If you're lucky, you've had one teacher in your life who made you feel special; made you feel like you could do anything.  For some of the kids at Highland Park's North Pointe Academy, it's their music teacher, Joe Vercellino.

Vercellino, 25, joined a music department where most of the kids use trash cans for drums, the equipment is limited, and there aren't enough microphones to go around. Still, Vercellino says he's drawn to the challenge.  

"I felt like it was going to stretch me as a person and allow me to be really creative," he said.  And from his creativity, came Beasts of the Beat, a rap group formed of eight of his students.  He didn't know that what he created would change the lives of eight young men forever.

VIDEO: Click the video player to watch Maurielle Lue's story, as well as a Christmas performance from Beasts of the Beat as seen during 'The Nine.'

Even though these kids have skills, their rap group is not based on talent. They were selected for their personal strengths and weaknesses: one a strong leader, while another is learning to make better decisions. Vercellino got the idea from the movie, Money Ball.  He explained that in the movie, "Brad Pitt assembled this baseball team just based on their statistics. And if each person does what they're supposed to do, then they're going to win."  

The first album is setting iTunes on fire. Beasts of the Beat is breaking the mold and steering away from commercialized rap music.  Instead, they rap about positive messages with lyrics like, "My life is my story."

"The culture of hip-hop really isn't doing much for anybody. I don't think it's doing anything for my kids. You don't need to be talking about the girls and the cars and the shoes. But, if that's been poured into you for the last 15 years of your life, you can't just walk in into your music class and have your music teacher say we're not going to talk about that anymore," Vercellino explained.  

He started meeting with the boys before and after class. They talked about the issues they dealt with at home and school. One day, they started free styling and talking about bullying.

In Highland Park alone, there is a 24% unemployment rate, which is more than triple the national average, and 42% of the people who live there live below the poverty line. Rapper, Keon Snadon said, "Basically, all it is, is drugs and poverty. Every kid has his own decision. Black kids say, I ended up here because of the neighborhood I live in. It's your choice if you want to make it or you don't, whether you want to be another statistic, another drug dealer that they know about or you can be somebody successful. I choose to be somebody successful."

Vercellino is more than a teacher to these boys.  "I look at Mr. V. like a father because he comes through for everybody like he is our father," said Dwight Banks.
 
"The hardest thing for me is knowing that some of my kids are going home, and they don't get to experience the same thing I experienced growing up. Like, they don't have a dad that speaks to them and say, 'I do believe in you. I believe you have what it takes to be a man,'" Vercellino said.

"He's literally the best teacher ever. Most teachers teach and go home. He does stuff outside. He takes you to a camp if you want to go. And that's just him, loving and caring and doing him," said Snadon.


"It feels good because I -- all of us -- have good talent. It's like a brotherhood," another rapper said.  

Beasts of the Beat rocked the stage on November 5th at the Michigan Charter School Conference. Their biggest show yet, selling their album hoping to raise money for the school's music program. The performance is just the beginning for these young men, the script is still being written.

"My ultimate goal is every one of these kids will grow up to be strong, consistent men. Beast of the Beat is not about creating rap stars," said Vercellino.

  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • City of Detroit posts improvement updates online

    City of Detroit posts improvement updates online

    Thursday, July 31 2014 7:18 AM EDT2014-07-31 11:18:29 GMT
    Residents will be able to view the number of new streetlights installed in their Detroit neighborhood, how many lots were mown and the number of vacant houses demolished by going to the city's website.
    Residents will be able to view the number of new streetlights installed in their Detroit neighborhood, how many lots were mown and the number of vacant houses demolished by going to the city's website.
  • Community comes together to support slain Armada teen's family

    Community comes together to support slain Armada teen's family

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 11:55 PM EDT2014-07-31 03:55:10 GMT
    Nearly a week after 14-year-old April Millsap was found murdered in the small town of Armada, friends, family and even those who didn't know the young girl gather for music in the park - this time hoping for justice.They were there to help raise money to ease the burden on April's heartbroken mother."We're as well as can be expected," said aunt Sarah Lichtenfelt. "They are just grateful for all the prayers and support, that's all we ask is to keep praying for strength."In the middle of it all...
    Nearly a week after 14-year-old April Millsap was found murdered in the small town of Armada, friends, family and even those who didn't know the young girl gather for music in the park - this time hoping for justice.They were there to help raise money to ease the burden on April's heartbroken mother."We're as well as can be expected," said aunt Sarah Lichtenfelt. "They are just grateful for all the prayers and support, that's all we ask is to keep praying for strength."In the middle of it all...
  • Family asks for justice after mother of three found dead next to dumpster

    Family asks for justice after mother of three found dead next to dumpster

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 11:33 PM EDT2014-07-31 03:33:46 GMT
    When 32-year-old Katherine Gibson was a little girl, her loved ones thought, the "life" ahead of her would be long. But it wasn't."Me and my girlfriend dropped her off and she had just told us, she loved us," said Marvin Gibson, her cousin.That would be the last "I love you" that he would hear. because after Gibson's cousin dropped her off at Harper and Conner, near Bronco's Market. The day after, she was found dead. Gibson's lifeless body, discovered by a dumpster, beside the building."Layin...
    When 32-year-old Katherine Gibson was a little girl, her loved ones thought, the "life" ahead of her would be long. But it wasn't."Me and my girlfriend dropped her off and she had just told us, she loved us," said Marvin Gibson, her cousin.That would be the last "I love you" that he would hear. because after Gibson's cousin dropped her off at Harper and Conner, near Bronco's Market. The day after, she was found dead. Gibson's lifeless body, discovered by a dumpster, beside the building."Layin...
  • Maurielle LueMaurielle LueMore>>

  • Attorney wants investigation of city clerk over Arab-American voter suppression

    Attorney wants investigation of city clerk over Arab-American voter suppression

    Tuesday, July 29 2014 11:43 PM EDT2014-07-30 03:43:20 GMT
    It is the tale of two cities. one paints a picture of a meticulous Dearborn Heights city clerk, following the law and fighting for a fair election. The other a story of abuse of power, mishandled ballots and voter suppression.Fatima Abdrabboh is an attorney and Michigan's director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee the largest chapter in the country. She is calling for a full-scale investigation into claims that Walter Prusiewicz mishandled ballots from Arab-American voters fo...
    It is the tale of two cities. one paints a picture of a meticulous Dearborn Heights city clerk, following the law and fighting for a fair election. The other a story of abuse of power, mishandled ballots and voter suppression.Fatima Abdrabboh is an attorney and Michigan's director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee the largest chapter in the country. She is calling for a full-scale investigation into claims that Walter Prusiewicz mishandled ballots from Arab-American voters fo...
  • Detroit teen recovering after basketball accident at park

    Detroit teen recovering after basketball accident at park

    Monday, July 28 2014 10:51 PM EDT2014-07-29 02:51:50 GMT
    A Detroit teen is seriously hurt after an accident at a Detroit park. He has a long road to recovery ahead, but has a strong support system that isn't giving up hope.
    A Detroit teen is seriously hurt after an accident at a Detroit park. He has a long road to recovery ahead, but has a strong support system that isn't giving up hope.

  • Marygrove College president wants to help child immigrants

    Marygrove College president wants to help child immigrants

    Thursday, July 17 2014 7:37 PM EDT2014-07-17 23:37:56 GMT
    The immigration crisis at the border continues to make its way to Michigan. Now, the president of Marygrove College says he wants to provide resources to help child immigrants from Central America.
    The immigration crisis at the border continues to make its way to Michigan. Now, the president of Marygrove College says he wants to provide resources to help child immigrants from Central America.
  • Download the FOX 2 Apps


  • FOX 2 News Five-Day Forecast
  • What's HotMore>>

  • Unsecured axe flies off truck and into windshield of car

    Unsecured axe flies off truck and into windshield of car

    An "ax-cident" on Route 95 in Topsfield left the passenger of one car shaken up but uninjured after an ax dislodged from a dump truck, striking the windshield of the car behind it.
    An "ax-cident" on Route 95 in Topsfield left the passenger of one car shaken up but uninjured after an ax dislodged from a dump truck, striking the windshield of the car behind it.
  • How honest are we, Detroit?

    How honest are we, Detroit?

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 7:45 PM EDT2014-07-30 23:45:12 GMT
    A national social experiment took place in Detroit Wednesday and the results will show just how honest we really are.
    A national social experiment took place in Detroit Wednesday and the results will show just how honest we really are.
  • VIDEO: 5-Year Old Girl Does Not Want Her Brother To Grow Up

    VIDEO: 5-Year Old Girl Does Not Want Her Brother To Grow Up

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 2:52 PM EDT2014-07-30 18:52:16 GMT
    In a video getting a lot of attention this morning on YouTube, a 5-year old girl named Sadie has learned that her little brother will one day grow up and she's not too happy about it!
    In a video getting a lot of attention this morning on YouTube, a 5-year old girl named Sadie has learned that her little brother will one day grow up and she's not too happy about it!
Powered by WorldNow
Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices