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Three-hundred educators were surprised with an unusual initiation to the school year — drumming.

"This was definitely a first!" said learning support specialist Ashley Newcomer, from Dillsburg. "Everyone was walking, looking at the drums like, 'What is going on?'"

Teachers, social workers, family mentors, leadership and staff members from Pennsylvania's Reach Cyber Charter School were all greeted by Drum Cafe USA on Aug. 21 at Best Western Premier, in Harrisburg.

The musical group travels throughout the country to focus on unity through a shared drumming experience. Each audience member received their own djembe drum for the day so everyone could drum together in unison.

Most of the drums came from Ghana, West Africa, said co-founder Aviva Nash, and each is hand-carved with its own unique sound.

"Just like each person has their own unique skill set or personality to bring to the group," she said.

The cyber educators came from all over Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg, the Poconos, Reading, Indiana, Erie and York.

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"We don't all get to see each other all the time," so it was a nice surprise to do something together, Newcomer said.

Nina Rodriquez, who led the drumming group on stage in Harrisburg, said the experience was about removing barriers that sometimes separate people.

Founded in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1996, Drum Cafe USA was an effective way to connect the country's multicultural workforce in the wake of apartheid.

"In Africa, we celebrated the drum," said band member Pablo Djembe, of the Ivory Coast.

Now the group takes their drumming to gatherings — traveling mainly to team-building experiences such as staff training or corporate retreats but also to private community events, including weddings.

After warming up the crowd, Rodriguez led a call and response. She asked group member Boubacar Diabate, also from the Ivory Coast, to share six rhythms on his drums.

"When he plays, we all play!" she said.

"I thought it was real interesting when they talked about how we were all harmonizing together," said family mentor Rachel Daczka, of Dover Township. "It was a good way to bring us together."

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Shaina Collazo, a social worker from West York, took an African dance class at Millersville University, so this was a welcome return to drumming.

"I definitely love the community element," she said, noting her favorite part was when she could feel the vibration from all the other drums and share in what Rodriguez called "the heartbeat."

The heartbeat is the bass note — and the bass note of education is student success, Rodriguez said.

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