Home Guthrie

Academics, Arts, Community, Middle School, Humanities

7th Grader’s Folk Song Gives Voice to Plight of Seattle's Homeless

Above: Saumya P. (’27) and lyrics from her original song, "Home," inspired by folk singer Woody Guthrie.

Saumya strums her guitar beside her Humanities teacher, Tamara Bunnell.

In her song, “Home,” Saumya paints searing portraits of people in the school’s neighborhood, trying to survive without a place to call home.

THIS WINTER, Northwest seventh-graders didn't just learn about legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie. Thanks to Humanities teachers Tamara Bunnell and Jenna Gareis, students got the opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of the beloved songwriter.

“We study Woody Guthrie as part of a general peek into the 1930s, but also because he spent some time in the Pacific Northwest and wrote many songs about it,” Tamara said. 

Their students were asked to write and perform a folk song inspired by Guthrie's work that explores the same themes that inspired him, or what they think he would write about were he alive today. The prolific Oklahoma native holds a special place in history as a highly influential folk singer and agent of change. His body of work revealed harsh truths about human rights, racial discrimination and economic equality, chronicling the struggles of those who suffered from racism and oppression.

An Homage to Woody Guthrie

Saumya P. (’27), a student in Tamara’s class, has played guitar for a little over a year, and she approached the assignment with particular care and sensitivity, paying homage to the folk singer’s legacy by writing and performing an original song titled “Home.”

an honest narration of the plight of the homeless in downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill. Saumya’s lyrics recount the struggles of several homeless individuals who live near The Northwest School, inviting listeners to pay attention to their struggles and to care about a crisis that grows more serious with each passing year.  

“We were studying the art of folk music and how folk has often, historically, been used to describe injustices,” said Saumya. “So, I thought about how one of our biggest injustices in Seattle is homelessness, and I thought it would be an important topic to bring more awareness to, in writing.”

Seattle's homeless crisis stems from complicated mix of racial inequity, economic disparity, lack of affordable housing, mental health issues, addiction, and more. While Seattle-King County does not have a recent count, in January 2020 there were an estimated 11,751 individuals experiencing homelessness in the county. Forty-seven percent were unsheltered, giving Seattle the third highest homeless population in the nation, after New York City and Los Angeles.

Grappling with Large Problems

WHEN STUDENTS explore an issue with personal meaning to them, they are more likely to connect a class assignment with a larger purpose or problem. The process of crafting and performing a song about a current issue also helped these Northwest seventh-graders integrate multiple modes of learning. 

"There is a great blend of personal voice and content analysis when you ask for an artistic response,” Tamara said. “It engages the emotions and allows more room for creativity than something like a research paper, while at the same time calling for students to synthesize and sometimes simplify complex ideas.”

For Saumya, the opportunity to write and perform “Home” held a special appeal.  

“One of the things I happen to do in my spare time is play guitar, sing and write music,” she said. “This fit with that, so I was looking forward to doing something I enjoy as a homework assignment.”

Students in Tamara Bunnell's seventh-grade Humanities class gather around classmate Saumya P., whose homage to Woody Guthrie is called "Home."