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News & AwardsPortsmouth Schools Link Learning and Art – With a Little Extra Help

April, 1997  |  The Virginian-Pilot

On the surface, it was just a tale about a greedy little spider that tricked more than a few cows, horses, pigs and other animals out of their food and later learned why it was important to share and be courteous. But it was all of the hands-on stuff between the story’s beginning and its end that kept the students’ attention and had them playing their roles with gusto while also picking up on everything from letter sounds to teamwork.

For S.H. Clarke Academy students in two kindergarten classes and one pre-kindergarten class, Wednesday’s story dramatizations with musician and educator Marcia Daft were fun with sugar on top – given the props, singing and dancing. But the point of the lessons, part of a weeklong, artist-in-residence project, went well beyond fun alone, educators said.

Giving some of the youngest students an early introduction to the arts will not only stimulate their interest in traditional academic work, but also help them equate learning with enjoyment, they said. “It’s natural for children to have an interest in music, dance, movement, and the arts,” said Clarke Principal Daisy M. Murphy. So the school, she said, is attempting to use the arts ”as a bridge” to the three R’s. It’s an idea education researchers and others have long embraced as a way to strengthen students’ problem-solving skills and creativity.

In the classrooms, the students’ engagement was obvious as they giggled while in character and readily took their places around a multi-colored rug. When Daft asked one of the kindergarten classes what animal in the story would get hot peppers, the children knew it would be the horse, of course. ”Horse” and ”hot” both start with the ”h” sound. And when, in the same class, a designee beat a drum just so, certain groups of ”animals” knew it was time to fall out in front of the student playing the ”moss-covered rock.” The beat was linked to the point in the story when the rock’s strange powers kicked in.

Daft, from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, has worked all week with selected students and educators at Clarke, as well as some of those at Churchland Child Opportunity Inc., a city preschool program based at Grove Baptist Church. Clarke, a city public school, and Churchland Child Opportunity recently received a joint grant from the Vienna, Va.-based institute, which is part of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. The institute also gave both participants free educational materials, including guidebooks and accompanying cassettes.

Wednesday’s dramatizations at Clarke, with Daft coaching Clarke students through parts of a story she introduced Tuesday, were only part of the day’s attractions. In addition to leading classroom exercises, Daft also held an after-school workshop on weaving music into academic lessons for teachers from Clarke. The preschool program and other city educators were invited to attend. A parent workshop is scheduled for later today.

”You learn through a lot of different ways, you don’t just learn through listening and observation,” said Daft, a classical pianist by training and an author who has developed music-education programs. “A lot of people are bodily learners — kinesthetic learners. Others are musical or social learners,” she said. ”When you’re using the performing arts, you’re addressing all of those ways of learning, providing an entry point for every child.”

Parent Pamela Boone stopped by Clarke Wednesday to observe her daughter Rontria in her kindergarten class. Boone also got a chance to see Daft in action. ”That’s all my daughter talked about (Tuesday): how much fun she had with Ms. Marcia and how much she learned from Ms. Marcia,” Boone said. ”I’m glad they’re doing different things to teach the kids.”

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