Friday, November 20, 2009

On schooling...

When it came time for Elizabeth to start kindergarten, we deliberately chose a local arts-based education charter school in our area for the type of hands-on, arts-integrated education that we knew would mesh well, not only with our family, but with her style of learning and personality. I am frequently amazed with how this is accomplished at her school, and I always enjoy reading the column in her weekly school newspaper, "How We Do It and Why". Even when the column is not directed at what her grade is learning, it's insightful to see how and why they choose the activities and education methods that are integrated into the curriculum. It just so happens that the following does pertain to Elizabeth's grade, and we're very excited to see the product of all their hard work:

The three evil ladies circle around, hissing “Tamino and Papageno, run away! They will kill you if you stay!” The prince folds his arms and turns silently away. But the birdcatcher, Papageno, leaps into the air, arms flailing, and squeals “I don’t want to do this!” In that moment of fear, he breaks his vow of silence.

After acting out this little scene, the third graders sit on the floor in front of the mini-stage. The teacher asks “What did the ladies do? How did they move? How did the prince respond?” They review what they have observed, and literally run to their desks to write down the details and the dialogue. “The prince nodded his head and stood tall,” they write. When that one is finished, they dash back to the classroom stage to act out the next scene. When we simply remind young writers to “use details”, they get writer’s block. What details? Green? Very green? Acting out a scene from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” helps them discover and observe details. “How did you know he was serious?” asks the teacher. “He pointed his finger and used a big voice!” the children answer. When we use acting to investigate a familiar and engaging story, we enact the details instinctively. When we immediately write them down, and then return for another scene, we remain engaged, excited, and focused. We know the story because we have listened to parts of the opera in music. We have “gone shopping” in a mini [school] fabric shop where we compared and selected fabrics for costuming our puppet characters. We studied the art and symbolism of ancient Egypt, in preparation for designing our backdrops and costumes. On Wednesday, we visited the elaborate 2-story murals of John Biggers at WSSU, noting his incorporation of those same Egyptian symbols into his work.

The students will perform their original puppet version of Mozart’s opera...joined by three professional musicians: flautist Lisa Ransom, pianist Robert Rocco, and tenor Glenn Siebert. Stepping into this great work of musical art and using it as a vehicle to make visual connections between ancient Egypt, the Europeans of the 18th century, and a great contemporary African-American artist in America makes an enormous impression on the young psyche. We are not so very far away from one another over the centuries.

~ Mary Siebert, arts curriculum coordinator


  1. WOW! That's all I can say.. just WOW!! :)

  2. That is very cool! That's great that you have an art-based charter school in your area. I'm new to your blog, and love reading your posts!

  3. Amazing school! Sounds like your children are exposed to wonderful teachers who care about incorporating the arts.

  4. i love it and i am in such agreement. we chose a music charter for our daughter, because it fit her so perfectly and it fit our needs of a school. it has already taught me so much about what to look for in a school and has opened the doors to all sorts of educational information and possibilities i never considered before.

  5. That is so very interesting. I think most children would learn better that way. Perhaps I would have liked school better if I had the chance to learn that way. Very interesting. Glad Elizabeth is enjoying it.

  6. I wish there was a school like that in my district--there are only art/music charter schools in the City:(


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