Finding your voice

By Casey Stegman & Beau Vorous

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Lots of people say a music career was their childhood dream.

But when Michael Bratsch says it, he's being literal. A future in music was as much a part of his sleeping life as his waking one.

"I was very passionate about music," says Bratsch. "I used to fall asleep with a little busted-down keyboard under one arm and a guitar under my other arm."

That dream persisted into adolescence. Over and over, Bratsch drove 20 minutes from his house to circle Flyte Tyme Studios (where Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis recorded) and fantasized about someday recording at a place like that.

Bratsch's love of music led him to Atlanta, where he worked in the music industry.

But as time went on, a secondary passion for education began to take hold. It eventually became so strong that he moved back to Minnesota, got his teaching credentials, and transformed from Michael Bratsch the musician into Mr. B the educator.

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When he came to newly reopened Franklin Middle School—which had been closed for nearly a decade—he found an opportunity to use his musical skills to help address disciplinary problems.

"So I pitched the idea of the Franklin School song," Mr. B says.

With the after-school group he co-founded, The Futureboys & Girls Club, Mr. B and his students wrote a song that aimed to forge a sense of community. When it came time to record it, Mr. B was able to book space at the famous Winterland Studios—where renowned artists such as Lenny Kravitz, Alanis Morissette, and The Black Eyed Peas have recorded.

"The first time I stepped foot in there, I got goosebumps," Mr. B says.

The song, which went on to garner local and national attention, forged a sense of community around the school. It also set a unique precedent for the club.

The Futureboys & Girls Club became known by both administrators and the student-body as a group for high-profile creative projects.

"The Franklin School song generated a lot of buzz," Mr. B says. "And that kind of visibility creates more opportunities."

Chief among those opportunities were more high-profile musical projects that infuse education with creativity.

"So often in their regular school day, students are not able to explore the kind of creativity we foster in the club,” Mr. B says. "But at the same time we tie academic learning into everything we do."

Quotation marks

We have to allow our staff to be creative

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Coats, hats, gloves photo
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Terry Lewis Twitter photo
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Over the course of the next year, the group created another song and video that became as big a hit as the Franklin school anthem. The video for "I'm So Motivated" gained thousands of views on YouTube.

And additional news coverage.

"There's been a lot of media coverage," Mr. B says. “And because of that, a lot of inspiration from within the school has spread across the community."

All that exposure and inspiration have solidified Futureboys & Girls' value for teaching leadership through collaboration. It's also served as a point of pride for the larger Minneapolis area.

The club gained even greater notoriety when it created a special song and video for Super Bowl LII, played at US Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota VIkings. "Coats, Hats, and Gloves" welcomed football fans to the Twin Cities and taught them to pack for the very cold weather they were going to encounter.

Listen: Mr. B on the creative process within The Futureboys & Girls Club

"I'll never forget us brainstorming the ideas on the whiteboard and talking about the vision of what it could be," Mr. B says. "It just started off just such a small seed. But then to see it just develop and to see the students get more excited and provide more ideas, and for it to blossom the way it did was...well, it was just breathtaking."

For Mr. B, that's the most rewarding part.

"Honestly, it never gets old," he says. "It's always inspiring and motivating. Sometimes I'm so excited about the work the students are doing on a project that I can't fall asleep. It never gets old."

It may not be the music career young Michael Bratsch dreamed of when he snoozed beside his guitar. But leading Futureboys & Girls is much more creatively rewarding and impactful than than that boy could have ever imagined. By showing students the power of collaboration and, in the process, elevating their voices above his own, Mr. B has created wholly unique music that inspires with each and every song.

"And I get goosebumps every time," he says.

Words by Casey Stegman
Visuals by Rachel Ertel, Liz Wetzel, & Aaron Williamson
Video by Beau Vorous
Photography by Jason Arthurs
Audio by Brent Simoneaux
Editing by Jimmy Ryals
Code by Ryan Altvater
Executive production by Kim Jokisch

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