Marla Lewis: Grammy Winning Songwriter for Kids, Parents, and Teachers

“I never expected to win a Grammy,” says Wantagh Award-winning singer/songwriter, Marla Lewis. “I just love to write songs that teach, entertain, and sometimes raise a smile. I’m really proud of my work.” 

After 25 years of writing songs for adults and children, Marla’s tune, Leap of Faith, became part of a compilation CD called All About Bullies…Big and Small. The CD won a Grammy for Best Children’s Recording.

Leap of Faith is about a timid little girl named Faith who finds her courage.  On the playground she sees a bully push a small kid down. Before she can even think about being afraid she stands up and says, “Cut that out!/Leave that kid alone right now!” Everybody in the playground stops, stares the bully down, and cheers Faith. The bully turns and walks away.  Everyone is jubilant, and Faith discovers how much inner power she has.

 During the course of her career, Marla taught ESL (English-as-a- Second Language) in New York City schools. She utilized her musical talent to teach lessons across the curricula from grammar, to math, to social studies, science, and literacy skills.  For example, to teach irregular plurals Marla created a chant “One Foot, Two Feet” and added movement to act out each body part.  “The combination of aural, visual, and kinesthetic modalities accommodates children’s varied learning styles,” says Marla.  For a kindergarten math lesson, she has the children sing this ditty:  If you know how to count you can add by one.  “I also use folk songs, for example, Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd,to teach kids about slavery, and how the slaves used the North Star to find their way to freedom.” 

Marla uses many of her songs in her original professional development workshops for teachers. One workshop deals with how music and movement facilitate literacy.  Another workshop teaches collaborative songwriting.  “I wrote one of my favorite songs, We Love to Read, with a second grade class! The kids were very excited about learning to read. They were amazed at how those  ‘squiggles on the page’ became letters. We had a magical time working together!”

“You don’t have to be a musician to do this.  You just have to enjoy the music and . . . know how you’re going to use it to teach the lesson.”  This is what classroom teachers do best and to this day Marla’s music is sought out by education practitioners around the country to integrate her songs into lessons of their own invention.

To produce professional quality recordings meant finding resources:  “Funding in the arts is not easy.  I have recorded two albums for kids and they each cost me about $30,000.  I used all live musicians; I didn’t skimp on anything, but I didn’t exactly use a New York City studio, either.”  With the staunch support of a producer, Bob Stander of Huntington, Marla sold over 3,000 CDs, and won Parent’s Choice Awards for both We All laugh in the Same Language (2005) and  I Love to Talk to Plants (2008). 

Although retired from public school teaching, Marla continues to pursue her art by producing videos at home and uploading them to her YouTube channel.  “The Arts are the most positive aspect of man and womankind . . . if we made a time capsule to show another species in space what we’re about, we’d include our greatest achievements, which are our works of art, scientific discoveries, and speeches made by our greatest leaders.  I honestly don’t understand why drama, music, art, and dance are not valued as much as science, math and social studies.” Further, Marla adds, “The arts empower us and give us the ability to make a difference. “

To find out more about Marla Lewis and her music visit her website  “We all Laugh in the Same Language!”

Olivia Bouler: Taking Flight


Twelve-year-old Olivia first gained fame two years ago when she offered her paintings to people who donated to the National Audubon Society in response to the BP Gulf oil spill. To date, she has created more than 500 paintings and raised more than $200,000 for the Audubon Society. She’s also published a book, lobbied on Capitol Hill for environmental reforms and spoken to school children in different states and countries about her passion for animals.


In August, she was honored for her work at the International Year of Youth Culmination Celebration at the United Nations and personally invited by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama this past December to attend a holiday reception. Over the February winter break Olivia traveled to Costa Ricato study bird wildlife in their natural habitat. Her first gallery show is in the planning stages for this coming season.

And if she had not had the opportunity to pursue the arts, Olivia emphatically exclaimed, “Oh, my God! My life would be over!”  The Arts have not only been the conduit through which she channels her energy and enthusiasm for her causes, but also a respite for coping with her emerging adolescence:  “I’ve seen other kids who don’t have the arts and they turn to the wrong things . . . if they had considered taking [an art class] instead of another class with another grade and another period of the day, it would have saved them.” And it’s not even about being able to draw.  The ability to freely respond to any given moment has transcended to her writing skills.  Praising her English teacher, Olivia can compose two pages to a written prompt within 10 minutes.  Playing the saxophone challenges her to take risks and improvise:  “You just keep on going;  just pick up that pencil and start writing. I can tell you there are brilliant writers [in my class] there are brilliant players, brilliant singers [who will] never be heard because they are so scared of doing a solo because they’re afraid of what people might think; they will just not get up in front of that stage and expose themselves even in a group.”

Besides the arts’ capacity to instill courage for anyone who dares to accept the risk, Olivia is cautious about protecting her personal boundaries.  “Kids, personally, don’t like me in school.  I’m just too different, and bouncy and boisterous.”  Despite composing a song to perform for the school talent show Olivia decided that it was too revealing emotionally and decided to do another selection.  ‘It’s really good, it’s really put together and I may perform it at another event where kids won’t attack me because kids [can be] monstrous.”

It’s this secure sense of self-esteem that the arts have armed Olivia to pursue her dreams.  For as long as she can remember she always wanted to “do something crazy, radical, and kind of awesome with my life.”  Her “epiphany”, if you will, was the moment her parents put a pencil in her hand.  Since picking up that pencil, she has 30,000 people who follow her on Facebook and is more determined than ever to do something really amazing for the arts and the environment:  “We are like birds! We have to sing our song before our time goes out . . . we have to sing our songs NOW before it’s all gone.”  By her example, we can be certain that her message will resonate for all humanity and be realized in our lifetime. “Go birds!”

Contact Olivia on her website and Facebook!

First Online With Fran Featured in GEM Magazine

It’s March. Do You know How Strong Your Schools’ Arts Programs Are?

Secretary Duncan talks with students at one of the ED’s frequent Student Art Exhibit Openings at the Department’s headquarters.
The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. All of the arts – dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts – are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text. 
The importance of arts education is celebrated each year during March through Dance in the Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month. Throughout the country, student presentations in local communities will showcase how the arts infuse creativity and innovation into learning. The month also presents an opportunity to acknowledge the arts specialists who help students reach high standards in the arts, while also serving their school communities as “chief creative officers” who collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate the arts with other core subjects.  Read more

Born to Not Get Bullied

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The New York Times

When she was in high school, Lady Gaga says, she was thrown into a trash can. The culprits were boys down the block, she told me in an interview on Wednesday in which she spoke – a bit reluctantly – about the repeated cruelty of peers during her teenage years. “I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.” Searching for ways to ease the trauma of adolescence for other kids, Lady Gaga came to Harvard Universityon Wednesday for the formal unveiling of her Born This Way Foundation, meant to empower kids and nurture a more congenial environment in and out of schools.
Lady Gaga is on to something important here. Experts from scholars to Education Secretary Arne Duncan are calling for more focus on bullying not only because it is linked to high rates of teen suicide, but also because it is an impediment to education. A recent study from the University of Virginia suggests that when a school has a climate of bullying, it’s not just the targeted kids who suffer – the entire school lags academically. A British scholar found that children who simply witness bullying are more likely to skip school or abuse alcohol. American studies have found that children who are bullied are much more likely to contemplate suicide and to skip school.  The scars don’t go away, Lady Gaga says. “To this day,” she told me, “some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true.’ But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.”
Any self-doubt Lady Gaga harbors should have been erased by the huge throngs that greeted her at Harvard. “This might be one of the best days of my life,” she told the cheering crowd.  The event was an unusual partnership between Lady Gaga and Harvard University in trying to address teen cruelty. Oprah Winfrey showed up as well, along with Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.  Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Graduate School of Education here at Harvard, said that she and her colleagues invited Lady Gaga because they had been searching for ways to address bullying as a neglected area of education – and as a human rights issue. As many as one-fifth of children feel bullied, she said, adding: “If you don’t feel safe as a child, you can’t learn.”
Lady Gaga describes her foundation as her “new love affair,” and said that, initially, she thought about focusing on a top-down crackdown on bullying. But, over time, she said, she decided instead to use her followers to start a bottom-up movement to try to make it cooler for young people to be nice.  I asked Lady Gaga if people won’t be cynical about an agenda so simple and straightforward as kindling kindness. Exceptionally articulate, she seemed for the first time at a loss for words. “That cynicism is exactly what we’re trying to change,” she finally said.  Bullying isn’t, of course, just physical violence. Lady Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Germanotta, who will serve as president of the Born This Way Foundation, says that one of the most hurtful episodes in her daughter’s childhood came when schoolmates organized a party and deliberately excluded Lady Gaga.  Lady Gaga was reluctant to talk too much about her own experiences as a teenager for fear that her foundation would seem to be solely about bullying. Her aim is a far broader movement to change the culture and create a more supportive and tolerant environment. “It’s more of a hippie approach,” she explained.
“The Born This Way Foundation is not restitution or revenge for my experiences,” Lady Gaga told me. “I want to make that clear. This is: I am now a woman, I have a voice in the universe, and I want to do everything I can to become an expert in social justice and hope I can make a difference and mobilize young people to change the world.”  Yes, that sounds grandiose and utopian, but I’m reluctant to bet against one of the world’s top pop stars and the person with the most Twitter followers in the world. In any case, she’s indisputably right about one point: Bullying and teenage cruelty are human rights abuses that need to be higher on our agenda.