A program to boost test scores at Washington Primary School does not resort to workbooks or rote instruction. It calls on Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Langston Hughes, paints and fancy footwork to stimulate learning.
The federally-funded program called ArtsBridge brings music, poetry, dance, drama and visual arts to the school. Instructors are UC Berkeley students.
Saturday, as part of Cal Day – when the university opens its doors to past and future students – Mary Ough’s second graders from Washington School, showed off what they had learned from instructor Michelle Garcia.
A dancer, choreographer and student of dance, Garcia put together a dance/poetry program focused on the Harlem Renaissance. All classes at Washington School are studying the arts renaissance that was centered in Harlem’s black community in the 1920s.
One by one, students stood before the microphone, with an audience of several dozen proud parents and
a group of Cal Day visitors. Each student recited a Langston Hughes poem, then the boys – who had been running around like penned-up puppies just moments before the presentation began – focused completely on the dance they performed to a Louis Armstrong song. The girls acted out in dance form the celebrated Jimmy Cox song “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.”
Ough said that when the students participate in learning, through acting, dancing or reciting poetry, their understanding of the subject goes to a deeper level. “The more you get involved, the more you understand and the more you remember,” Ough said.
Garcia said she believes dance gives the children a creative outlet for their energy, which allows them to focus more on their studies. Dance has also helped the children build a new vocabulary – for example, they learned what “solo, duet, and trio” means, she said.
Moreover, Garcia said art opens up new avenues to the children, teaching them that they can be poets or dancers some time in the future.
Garcia said she has brought dancers to the class – male dancers in particular – to show the whole class, and especially the boys, that professional dance could be in their futures. She plans to bring a group of slam poets to class in the next few weeks.
“They give so much to me,” Garcia said of her students. “They put more work and effort into the program than I could ask of any 8-year-old. They’re so wonderful.”