LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- About two dozen kindergarteners sat in front of Wheatley Elementary teacher NyRee Clayton-Taylor and repeated the words as she pointed them out in the lyrics, a microphone in hand and a hip-hop song written by some former students thumping along in the background.

It was written by her fifth-grade class last year about the late Louisville-born boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and Clayton-Taylor is using it to teach the kindergarten class how to read. Another song written by current fifth-graders this year called "California Love" is also used in her lessons.

Clayton-Taylor was named 2019 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year by the Kentucky Department of Education earlier this month, and her unique curriculum is a pivotal reason why. Clayton-Taylor says she uses hip-hop to teach students from kindergarten through fifth grade at Wheatley how to read and write and further their understanding of technology and coding.

"It's an honor, especially teaching in a school like Wheatley Elementary," she said as a class of third-graders sat reading at the beginning of a class Thursday. "It's high needs, and it means a lot."

"It's a balancing act, you know. It's not just me teaching because they teach me a lot as well," Clayton-Taylor said of her students.

Clayton-Taylor, a Louisville native and 17-year veteran of Jefferson County Public Schools, has always incorporated music in her lessons.

In fact, she's brought in DJs and has a beat machine to help her kids learn more about programming and coding, and she says having students create their own dances moves to go along with the music reinforces their understanding of reading, writing and coding.

"For me to have a curriculum in the classroom where they're just reading and then just saying to them, 'Write a two-page paper,' that's not going to work, not with this generation of kids," Clayton-Taylor said. "So what I do, I use hip-hop as the hook. They don't even know they're reading."

"To me, if they can say it, then they can find it on a text," she added.

She's seen students' confidence grow through her use of hip-hop in the classroom as they develop a better grasp of writing.

Clayton-Taylor views her lessons as examples of project-based learning. JCPS has also allowed her to incorporate music in spring and summer extended school programs that she runs.

She's expecting about 20 students in her two-week "I Rap" program this summer.

"We learn about someone, whoever they want to learn about," Clayton-Taylor said. "We create a song. We learn how to make beats. They learn how to do coding. I mean, we just do everything."

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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