Homewood Middle School’s Lauren Nowak marches to the beat of Synergy

Homewood Middle School’s Lauren Nowak marches to the beat of Synergy
Assistant Band Director Lauren Nowak brings an infectious joy to her work with Synergy, the drum circle she leads for special needs students at Homewood Middle School. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

Before the drumming, they sat behind the drums quietly, peering into space, waiting.

When the drumming began, a different personality took over. They not only drummed; they screamed, sang, swayed, smiled, laughed and were thoroughly overjoyed.

Welcome to Synergy at Homewood Middle School, a drum circle for special students who enjoy being in one of the best bands in the state. Assistant Band Director Lauren Nowak knows what Synergy means to these exceptional students.

“Since we started this, I have seen a huge change in the students,” she said. “We have one student in particular who would not respond to anything. We do a lot of repetitive rhythms and talking back rhythms, and he just wasn’t in a place where he could do it. Now he will drum on cue. Any kind of growth is amazing to see.”

Lauren Nowak and Synergy help special needs students channel their inner rock stars from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Homewood Middle School Band Director Chris Cooper created Synergy last year when he saw one of the special students in band. He knew there were many more and wondered how he could get them involved in music.

“Being a drummer, I knew that might be a way to reach them, and we started a drum circle. It has exploded,” Cooper said. “The first day, Ms. Nowak asked if she could do the drum circle. It was obvious from the first minute that she had a connection with them. She was so sweet with them.”

Nowak sat with her drum in the front and directed the children to perform different songs. You could see the exhilarating joy on her face, and on the faces of the children. Wearing sunglasses, some of them took on the personality of a rock star.

“We believe here that music is a tool that should be accessible to everyone despite any possible adversity they could have in their life,” Nowak said. “Thanks to the Homewood City Schools Foundation, we could afford to do this.”

In January, the group performed with the keynote speaker at the Alabama Music Educators Association Conference, which takes place in Montgomery every year. More than 2,000 educators from schools and colleges across the state gave Synergy a standing ovation. Now more than 10 schools in the Birmingham area have contacted Nowak to start similar programs.

“This has easily become my favorite thing I do all week,” she said. “We have an amazing band program here in Homewood with four band directors teaching over 900 kids. It’s incredible to reach out to a whole other set of students and to see the joy it gives them.”

When the drum circle was over, the children moved on to their next class with pep in their step and smiles on their precious faces.

The same time next week, it will be rock stardom all over again.

For more information, visit http://hms.homewood.k12.al.us.

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at karimshamsibasha@gmail.com.

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