“How do you spell Hip-Hop?” asked Jose, age 8,  with headphones resting on his shoulders.

“H-I-P…” Partnership Program teacher Alicia Phelps says as she works her way around the classroom at Portland’s East End Community School,  checking iPads and  listening in on students’ headphones.

Alicia leads the Garage Band workshop on Wednesday mornings as part of EECS’s Rise and Shine before-school program.

“First, I just want them to understand the software, so they can have fun making music on their own,” said Alicia. She’s also hoping to get  the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders comfortable talking about and describing music because that kind of music literacy can prime their interest in learning to play an instrument.

Each Wednesday, she gives the students a fun challenge to spark their creativity.

On the day we visited, students were busy drawing superheroes, after which they were asked to create a theme song for their hero using Garage Band.

Jose’s theme song was a rhythmic blend of Hip-Hop, Dubstep and  and Electronic House.

“I was thinking about how he (Soul Brother) was rescuing his younger brother,” said Jose passing over the headphones to share his music.

Yousra, age 8, came up with a theme song for Ice-cream Girl that mixed hip hop with string instruments.  She explained that Ice-Cream girl was in the midst of an epic battle with Chocolate Man.

In the next class,  the students will get to share their work with the group and come up with three words to describe their song.

And all this happens before the first school bell rings.

“We find that anything creative or musical works really well in Rise and Shine,” said Dan Nogar, Dean of Students.

At 8:50 AM, the students head off down the hall,  energized by their superhero theme songs, ready to tackle the day ahead.