Tag Archives: arts education

Hamilton Education Program Gives D.C. Students a Shot at Performing While Honoring Kennedy’s Dream

Photo courtesy Caity Schneeman, KIPP DC College Preparatory School

Jacqueline Kennedy was a well-known patron of the arts. As first lady, she turned the White House into an “epicenter for artistic performance and expression.” In the East Room, she requested a portable stage be built to host performances, including a series of concerts for young people. According to the JFK Library website: “She understood that to a child, American history can often be a dry and dull affair, and she saw a visit to the President’s House as a chance to spark each child’s interest in the people who made the country what it is today.” The Kennedys’ love of history and the arts was one of the main reasons the proposed National Cultural Center authorized by President Eisenhower in 1958 changed its name to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts after his assassination.

One can imagine First Lady Kennedy smiling down on that very center the morning of September 12, 2018, as dozens of students and chaperones from twenty of Washington, D.C.’s Title 1 high schools enthusiastically participated in a day-long event centered on the life of Alexander Hamilton. (Title 1 public schools serve high percentages of high-poverty children.) She’d probably be pleased to know that a musical based on the life of the “bastard, orphan, son-of-a-whore and a Scotsman,” who grew up to be “the ten-dollar founding father without a father,” has become a national phenomenon.

Her own education involved the kind of well-rounded experiences with the arts that many low-income kids and children of color lack in America today. But the day’s performances highlighted D.C. schools who work to provide theatre arts opportunities for their students.

Before the main performance of Hamilton by the touring cast, students got their shot at performing original works inspired by the musical thanks to the Hamilton Education Program (HEP). Schools with students interested in performing must select one entrant (single or group) to submit a performance tape for HEP to review. In this case, ten student groups from the 20 schools in attendance were selected to perform. Participating schools are expected to spend several weeks preparing using curriculum materials provided by HEP. Sasha Rolon Pereira, Director of HEP, recalls many late-night email exchanges with teachers and her office in advance of this month’s event.

Danielle Benson, J’niya White, and Lorenzo Johnson represented the KIPP DC College Preparatory School, performing “Valley Forge Song.” Check out this video of their performance from Theater Arts teacher Caity Schneeman:

 

American troops spent the winter of 1777-1778 during the American Revolutionary War at Valley Forge, known as a winter of suffering and rebuilding in brutal conditions. Benson outlined her team’s creative process, including reading about Valley Forge, collecting significant facts about it, and writing an original song lyric: “It’s the winter Valley Forge systematic training regimen, transformed ragged soldiers into better men.” The strong beat of their rap quickly got the crowd involved as students in the audience clapped, cheered, and held up their illuminated phones to encourage the performance. Continue reading

Students of Color are Less Likely to Attend “Well-Rounded” Schools: Three Reasons This Hurts Students — and Their Schools

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Earlier this summer, I attended a launch event for Learn Together Live Together, a D.C.-based coalition that promotes racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in schools. The event featured a conversation with John King, CEO of The Education Trust and a former U.S. Secretary of Education. King spoke on many of the issues affecting poor children and children of color in our education system — they’re more likely to attend segregated schools, where students score below proficient on standardized tests in math and reading and which receive less per-pupil funding. But King made another surprising comment about these students: they’re also less likely to attend “well-rounded schools.”  

What is a well-rounded school? The National Center on Time and Learning describes well-rounded schools as ones that provide students with opportunities to engage in “critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork,” and that include “arts, music, and other enrichments in their curriculum.” These enrichments can include classes like physical education, drama, or debate, as well as hands-on versions of science and more in-depth social studies and civics classes than are offered in many schools. The instructional time being spent on these subjects is declining nationwide and King is right: students of color are less likely to be in schools that offer these opportunities.

I’ve seen this decline first-hand, teaching both urban and rural public school districts that serve predominantly children of color. At one school, there was no science or social studies time on my administrator-provided schedule, only a block for teaching “informational text.” There was one art teacher for 500 students, and it was impossible to fit every class on her schedule each year. At another school I had a 20-minute block on my schedule in which to teach science, social studies, and P.E. There were no art, music, or other enrichment teachers at all.

Those who make curriculum decisions often choose to prioritize reading and math instruction with good intentions. They might believe they’re doing right by their students, ensuring that they have the necessary grade-level reading and math skills they’ll need to be successful. They might also believe they’re doing right by their schools: as instruction time in “tested” subjects increases, increased test scores will follow, bringing more students, funds, and opportunities to their schools.

But there are three big reasons why increasing the instructional time spent on the arts, science, and social studies might help accomplish these same goals: Continue reading

39 Magical Years of Exploration: Wisdom from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Kindergarten Teacher

When I think about kindergarten, a number of images instantly come to mind: wooden blocks, the house corner, easels, smocks, water tables, the alphabet, and paper bag frog puppets. But, what I remember the most vividly is my teacher, Miss Spendly, and her wide, affirming smile and warm eyes. She made me fall in love with school.

Lin-Manuel Miranda remembers his kindergarten teacher fondly too. He tweeted a picture of the two of them in December. When Mrs. Liebov first came to see his Broadway show In the Heights, he proclaimed: “Mrs. Liebov, look what I made!”

Lin-Manuel Miranda hugging his kindergarten teach Amy Liebov

photo via @Lin_Manuel

Mrs. Liebov is an expert on kindergarten. She spent thirty-nine years guiding five-year-old students through a magical year of exploration, first at Hunter College Elementary School, a school for gifted children, and then as a founding faculty member at The School at Columbia University. I visited her classroom at Columbia before she retired and was amazed by her joyous, beautiful, and functional classroom. Mrs. Liebov easily guided students through lessons on symmetry and art projects modeled on Eric Carle’s books. Her young students made videos declaring their favorite parts of kindergarten, including memorable comments like: “I liked learning about Picasso’s blue period.” I recently interviewed Mrs. Liebov to capture her deep wisdom about the magical time of kindergarten and how it has changed in recent years.

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