MAPLE GLEN >> Singer-songwriter Jesse Ruben has been to hundreds of schools in the United States and Canada, interacting with thousands of students while promoting his We Can project. May 15 he came home.
Ruben, an Upper Dublin High School Class of 2004 grad, spent the day at Maple Glen Elementary School for the culmination of the school’s yearlong 1,000 Hours of Service, which grew out of Ruben’s song “We Can.”
After running the New York City Marathon in 2011, said Ruben, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., he wrote the song, which came out in 2012 and “spread by word of mouth.”
In 2013, he received an email from a teacher in Canada who said the song had inspired both teachers and students to accomplish a number of community projects and asked him to visit and sing the song for the students in person. A music video created during the visit spread, and soon he was getting requests to visit other schools, he said.
“I developed a program with some teachers and friends,” Ruben said. “It’s to encourage students to get in touch with what is inspiring to them.
“I’ve been doing it four years; it’s gotten bigger every year.”
The We Can Project, designed to be completed over a semester or school year, helps students “learn the importance of commitment, communication, strategic planning and follow through,” the website www.wecanwecanwecan.com says. The students “come away with confidence, leadership and a profound sense of accomplishment.”
Two months ago, he said, “Today Show” co-host Hoda Kotb heard his song during a spin class and aired the music video on the show, and then invited Ruben to appear on the show, where he performed “We Can.”
As the 450 MGES students filed into the auditorium for an all-school concert, Ruben said, “Going back to my community is even more meaningful.”
The point of the service-learning program “is for students and teachers and staff to make a list of goals and everyone chooses one and puts it into action,” he said.
Among the ones adopted at Maple Glen this year were writing letters to troops, book collections, cards for cancer patients, clothing and food collections for the poor and elderly, gathering items for the SPCA, and lemonade stands to raise money for Run for Jenna, a fundraiser for an educational fund in memory of the Maple Glen second-grader who died in October after being struck by a vehicle.
Principal Tim Bickhart said last year’s fifth-grade class sang “We Can” at the promotion ceremony, and in August he “challenged teachers” to get students involved in doing things to help others, “which grew into the We Can service project.”
MGES music teacher Adam Brittain, who introduced the song to the school, invited Ruben to attend the culminating event.
After a handful of students explained what their service project was, Brittain referenced a comment on a video on YouTube of Ruben performing the song, quoting: “After 20 years of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin … I’m finally letting that go because ‘I can.’”
Ruben performed several of his folk songs for the students, wrapping up with a sing-along of “We Can.”
“I’ve been to hundreds of schools,” he said. “I’ve had so much fun today.”