Finding Hope in Music at New York's P.S. 86

Gospel Choir Gives Troubled Students Sense of Pride, Self-Worth

Johanna Grussner, pictured with members of the P.S. 86 choral group.

Johanna Grussner, pictured with members of the P.S. 86 choral group. PublicAffairs hide caption

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Johanna Grussner, pictured with members of the P.S. 86 choral group.

Johanna Grussner, pictured with members of the P.S. 86 choral group on the cover of Seven Days of Possibilities. PublicAffairs hide caption

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Ten years ago, jazz singer Johanna Grussner moved to New York from Finland to study music and pursue stardom. Instead, she discovered a second love — teaching music to 10, 11 and 12-year olds at P.S. 86, an underprivileged Bronx school.

Nine out of 10 students enrolled at the school were poor. Only four in 10 spoke English; only two in 10 could read at grade level. Many were considered troublemakers and underachievers.

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Hoping to show the students what they were capable of, Grussman formed a children's choir. Three and a half years ago, the group traveled to the Aland Islands, Grussman's homeland, for a performance that captivated their hosts. Their story is chronicled in the new book Seven Days of Possibilities, by New York Times education reporter Anemona Hartocollis.

The P.S. 86 Gospel Choir

Hear full-length recordings of songs performed by the children shortly after their return from Finland:

Listen 'Going Up Yonder'

Listen 'Oh Happy Day'

Listen 'Vem Kan Segla'

Listen 'Soon I Will Be Home'

Shortly after that performance in Finland, Grussman left the states. This summer, Grussman reunited with many of her former students for one last performance. NPR's Claudio Sanchez talks with the students about what the experience meant to them.

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Books Featured In This Story

Seven Days of Possibilities
Seven Days of Possibilities

One Teacher, 24 Kids, and the Music That Changed Their Lives Forever

by Anemona Hartocollis

Hardcover, 314 pages | purchase

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Seven Days of Possibilities
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One Teacher, 24 Kids, and the Music That Changed Their Lives Forever
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