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‘That’s my hook’: How Taylor Swift’s music is teaching social-emotional skills to Allentown students

Independent living students  Ashley and Dianitza dance and sing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)
Independent living students Ashley and Dianitza dance and sing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)
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Allison Fritchman’s classroom at Allen High School is decked out with pink streamers, paper hearts and all things Taylor Swift.

“She’s fun, she’s exciting, she’s inspiring,” Fritchman, a special education teacher, said of the pop icon and Berks County native. “My students admire her, and I’m like, ‘Well, that’s my hook.’ ”

This past month Fritchman taught students social-emotional skills through Swift’s music in her independent living class, which focuses on helping students with disabilities hone functional skills like cooking, cleaning, self-care, personal development and career readiness.

Fritchman decorates her room every few weeks to represent the theme of each new class topic. For her recent Swift-inspired social-emotional learning unit, she hung posters of the singer and her song titles around the room.

“I want my children to feel inspired as they walk into this classroom,” Fritchman said, adding she aims to create a sense of “magic” for students that “transcends into their lives.”

By analyzing Swift’s songs and music videos, students reflected on how they see themselves and how they can respond to others who may be unkind.

Students discussed bullying and how to be resilient with Swift’s song, “.” Through “,” students learned about self-regulation and stress management.

“I felt like they connected with the bullying part of it all,” said Marisa Ortiz, a paraprofessional in the classroom. “They got emotional. They know the difference between how to talk to people and how to walk away from certain situations.”

The class also used the hit “” as a way to promote positive self-image despite negativity from others. Students are working on a music video for “Shake It Off” and will be designing their own costumes.

“Shake It Off” is Xavier Perez’s favorite Swift song, he said.

“That one’s close to my heart,” the 18-year-old student said. “Shake off the bad energy.”

But one of Swift’s early chart-topping hits, “,” still remains the most popular song for the majority of students, Fritchman said, adding it’s one of her favorites, too.

“What makes ‘Love Story’ connect? We all want relationships, and we do talk about that in our class,” she said. “We talk about positive relationships, conflict management within our romantic relationships, we talk about red flags in relationships.”

“All of us want that belonging, that connectivity to another person,” Fritchman added. “And ‘Love Story’ is that romantic piece that Taylor sang years ago that seems to connect with our teens today.”

  • Independent living student Ivonne fills in a portrait of Taylor...

    Independent living student Ivonne fills in a portrait of Taylor Swift with colored pencils Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Independent living students Carolay and Jaida bake and decorate a...

    Independent living students Carolay and Jaida bake and decorate a Taylor Swift’s “Lover” themed cake Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Independent living student Ashley sings and plays the guitar as...

    Independent living student Ashley sings and plays the guitar as Dianitza sings with a microphone to Taylor Swift’s song “Love Story” Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • The whole class including Independent Living teacher Allison Fritchman and...

    The whole class including Independent Living teacher Allison Fritchman and teacher Ileana Matos sing and dance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • The whole class including Independent Living teacher Allison Fritchman and...

    The whole class including Independent Living teacher Allison Fritchman and teacher Ileana Matos sing and dance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Members of the class including Independent Living teacher Allison Fritchman...

    Members of the class including Independent Living teacher Allison Fritchman and teacher Ileana Matos sing and dance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning.(April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Independent living students Ivonne, Ashley and Dianitza dance and sing...

    Independent living students Ivonne, Ashley and Dianitza dance and sing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Independent living student Dianitza makes a tie-dyed shirt with the...

    Independent living student Dianitza makes a tie-dyed shirt with the help of aid Marisa Ortiz on Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Independent living students Dianitza and Xavier make tie-dyed shirts on...

    Independent living students Dianitza and Xavier make tie-dyed shirts on Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Independent living student Xavier shows a song he wrote in...

    Independent living student Xavier shows a song he wrote in class about never giving up Friday, March 22, 2024, in a Life Skill classroom at Allen High School. The students, 18-21 with intellectual disabilities, are studying Taylor Swift to improve their social-emotional learning.(April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

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Students have also had other Swift-inspired activities in recent weeks like baking and art projects.

“Math, writing, reading — we integrate everything with that activity,” said Ileana Matos, another paraprofessional in the classroom. She said Fritchman is constantly coming up with creative learning ideas for class.

Students made chai cookies, a favorite of Swift’s who is also known for her love of baking, and created a cake decorated for Swift’s seventh album, “Lover,” released in 2019.

“I like how fun it is,” Carolay Sanchez, a 19-year-old student, said of the baking projects.

With Swift’s record-breaking Eras Tour, students also tracked her concert locations across the United States on a paper map, learning about different states and practicing how to spell the names of these locations. (The Eras Tour, which features performances from all of Swift’s 10 albums, is bringing in more than $1 billion in revenue.)

While Fritchman is a self-proclaimed “Swiftie” — the name Swift’s fans use to describe themselves — her Swift-inspired learning content isn’t self-interested.

Fritchman isn’t new to using themes to hook students into content and encourage learning; last year she taught a unit on robotics and similarly went all out with activities and decorations. She said it’s important to integrate themes and learning into all activities, whether that’s reading or cooking.

“These students need this additional connective wiring. We all do,” she said. “When you walk into a science museum, you feel like you’re hit by all different ways to interact with science. And that’s what we do here.”

“We impact our students with multiple disciplinary options,” she added. “They go, ‘Oh well, that was really cool. That was really cool,’ and those connective wires link.”

And Fritchman isn’t the first educator to rely on Swift as a conduit for learning.

Sean Connolly, a Bethlehem Area teacher, also used Swift’s songs to teach skip counting, gaining attention for the reimagined hits on TikTok last year.

And at the post-secondary level, courses are popping up on Swift’s discography and celebrity across the country at institutions like and .

While Fritchman’s students said they’re fans of Swift, they are more inspired by their teacher.

“She’s fun, bubbly. She reminds me of Barbie,” Sanchez said of Fritchman.

“She’s not afraid to be herself,” Jaida Wright, 17, added.

Fritchman has taught by example and created a space where students who are different feel safe.

“Some of them, coming into class sometimes, can be down,” Ortiz said. “But when they come into Fritchman’s class, their attitude changes.”

Morning 첥Ƶ reporter Jenny Roberts can be reached at jroberts@mcall.com.

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