ABS Thursday Notes- September 19, 2019

Thursday Notes                        Published for the Arts Based School Community                           September 19, 2019 www.artsbasedschool.com    How We Do It and Why By Mary Siebert “When the music changes, so does the dance.” – African Proverb   Dawanna Benjamin (visiting artist and 1st grade assistant teacher) performed a dazzling demonstration of African dance for first and second graders last week, along with two fellow dancers and two drummers. She introduced form and origins of the dance, showing students how some steps are descriptive of animals, how the dancers are barefoot, their balance close to the earth. Now she is visiting 2nd grade classes, teaching them the basics of African dance, and preparing dances that will become part of their story-telling. Both dancers and drummers have impressed upon us that these two art forms are entwined, in African tradition. For Dawanna, it was especially desirable for us to include the drummer she works with most: Allen Boyd, of Greensboro. “I can’t explain it,” Dawanna told me, “He knows how I’m going to move before I move.” This kind of artistic partnership is especially valuable for us to share as an audience, because there are three beings present: the dancer, the drummer, and the magical communication between them. Although students develop skills individually, our goal is to help them experience a fusion of drumming, dancing, and story-telling. We want to learn how to share in a synergistic relationship with our audience. Not the two-sided performance that occurs between actors on a screen and their distant audience, but the rich, authentic, in-the-moment sharing among the tellers and the listeners whose molecules share the same space. When African stories appear in American children’s literature, they have already been changed beyond recognition not only because they have been translated, but also because they have been written down. How, then, are we to become familiar with a rich tradition like this when it is worlds away? How can we experiment with it ourselves? When ABS was visited by Tanzanian story-teller Tololwa Mollel years ago, he said his Maasai grandfather taught him that that listening is as important as telling. “There is no story without the listeners,” Mr. Mollel maintained. And yet, he writes his own stories down, because now he lives in Canada, and he would rather share them via books with western children, than not share them at all. Like he does, we use the best means available to us; we connect with artists who can help us, we explore, we hope to ignite curiosity. With their classroom teachers, the students have...

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ABS Thursday Notes- September 12, 2019

Thursday Notes                        Published for the Arts Based School Community                           September 12, 2019 www.artsbasedschool.com    How We Do It and Why By Mary Siebert “All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.” – Moliére In a 5th grade Dancing Classrooms lesson, the instructor coaches couples through the tango for the first time. “Great scorpion shape with those arms!” she calls out. “Demonstrate for us how you did that! Can you see these arms? No broken scorpion arms, only strong, powerful ones!”  As one partner twirls another into the center of the circle, then back out, the instructor calls out “On to the pizza! Out to the crust!” …this kind of language, humorously appealing to the varied interests of kids while encouraging excellence, is typical of this carefully crafted curriculum. Couples rotate, trading partners seamlessly as the dance repeats. (Read that last sentence again…we are talking about ten and eleven-year-olds here!) As always, I am taken completely by surprise when I see which of the students seemed to float on air, excelling in this particular art form. Sometimes a child who tends to be disruptive or disinterested in other subjects will unexpectedly display intense focus in ballroom dance, asking pertinent questions and executing complex combinations with graceful ease and apparent delight. Dancing Classrooms is a program of twenty lessons taught at the 5th grade level at ABS, by visiting artist Ann Guill and her assistants. It’s underway, now. ABS piloted the program with Ms. Guill nine years ago. The Dancing Classrooms mission: “To build social awareness, confidence, and self-esteem in children through the practice of social dance. Through standards-based, in-school residencies, we use the vocabulary of ballroom dance to cultivate the positive feelings that are inherent in every child. The maturity necessary to dance together fosters respect, teamwork, confidence and a sense of joy and accomplishment, which we hope to bring to every child. Ballroom dance is the medium we use to nurture these qualities.” Students learn the foxtrot, waltz, swing, tango, merengue, and other dances while also learning how to treat one another with respect and social grace. This is a perfect match for us, particularly because Ann and her assistants are teaching the child, not the subject. The instructors, (assisted by the fearless Jordan Brown, our drama teacher,) are all expert ballroom dancers, but the priority is the social progress of the individual child. It’s challenging at first...

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ABS Thursday Notes- September 5, 2019

Thursday Notes                        Published for the Arts Based School Community                           September 5, 2019 www.artsbasedschool.com    How We Do It and Why by Mary Siebert   “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” – African American Spiritual and Protest Song   The first time we gathered all of our students in one room to sing together on a Friday afternoon seventeen years ago, there were 150 students in the school. They sat on the floor in the lunchroom of the MLK building. I stood on a salvaged furniture crate with my guitar, and the first song I led at the first Friday Sing was “This Little Light of Mine.” That song has everything: African American roots, rich protest, and powerful resistance history, joy, energy, and the power of positive thinking. When you sing it, you feel that anything is possible and that you, yourself, will accomplish it. Today I sang that song with each of the Kindergarten classes, in preparation for their first Friday Sing this week. Tomorrow, we’ll have our own private Kindergarten rehearsal in the theater with all three classes. Ms. Boudreault (“Mrs. B”) and I will stand up on the platforms with microphones and lights. We’ll sing and joke with them until they feel happy and safe in that setting. One little girl was confused, thinking that they themselves were to perform. She quickly volunteered to work backstage! I explained her role in this event more carefully, and she relaxed. I imagine she will make many courageous strides between today and Peter and the Wolf.  Our students regularly summon their self-confidence and try again. We take many runs at the goal, and the journey is a little different for every one of them. That path might require the help of a counselor or a reading specialist, a speech therapist, or a therapy dog. It might require extra assistance or the opportunity to try something more challenging than the norm. And some of them are truly happier backstage.  The “guided reading” and “guided math” that our children are taught supports this philosophy. I stepped into Ms. Sherell’s first grade classroom yesterday during a guided math lesson and saw how she worked intensively with four or five students, while three other groups were working in focused, related activities and problem-solving in various parts of the room. Ms. Dawanna assisted those who needed individual attention, perhaps encouragement to stay with the math, perhaps for a shoelace or a Kleenex. There was undeniable flow. Everyone in the room was full of energy and focus. It...

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ABS Thursday Notes- August 29, 2019

Thursday Notes                        Published for the Arts Based School Community                           August 29, 2019 www.artsbasedschool.com    No School- Monday Sept. 2 How We Do It and Why By Mary Siebert   “In order to create, there must be a dynamic force, and what force is more potent than love?” – Igor Stravinsky   Welcome, familiar friends and new! Our first day of school breezed by smoothly. I am the Arts Director at the Arts Based School, and nearly every Thursday you will find an article from me about our unique methods, the research supporting our philosophy, and inspirational moments in the classroom and school community. If you would like me to explore a particular topic, please suggest it by e-mailing me at msiebert@artsbasedschool.com We believe that our approach “levels the playing field” so that your child has many options for appropriately challenging learning and accomplishment. We continually assess and reconsider our work with one major goal: helping your child become a successful student who loves learning. We focus on meeting each child where s/he is, and moving forward from there. Beyond that, we want our students to become confident, inspired, creative problem-solvers. Sometimes, you are the missing link. Based on current research, here is how you can give your child the opportunities he or she desires and deserves. Make sure your child:   Gets 10 hours of sleep every night. (That’s right…TEN!) Eats a nutritious breakfast every morning, avoiding sugary foods. Brings a healthy snack and a water bottle, every day. Arrives at school on time, and avoids early departure. Gets outside and exercises after school and on weekends. Has restricted screen time, and reads at home daily. Read aloud together! Talks with you about school and has your help with learning, daily. Also, fulfill your volunteer hours. Research proves that children of active parent volunteers perform better in school. Even on difficult mornings, send your child off with a hug and loving words.     No amount of creative, dedicated, brilliantly-taught lessons or technology can make up for a lack in these parental responsibilities. Please,  partner with us to make your child’s year at ABS the best it can possibly be, and we pledge to do the same!   Clubs and Ensembles   ABS offers a few selSports Club with our PE teacher, Ms. Pierce on the field, is new this year, for 4th and 5th graders on Tuesday/Thursday and for 2nd and 3rd graders Fridays only, beginning the week of Sept 9.  Sports Clubs will be canceled for inclement weather. Sports Club students will develop skills and learn...

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ABS Thursday Notes- August 22, 2019

Thursday Notes                        Published for the Arts Based School Community                           August 22, 2019 www.artsbasedschool.com  How We Do It and Why By Mary Siebert   “Simply put: when aesthetic purpose precedes exposure and sales, art plays the upper hand.” – Bill Lasarow, ArtScene 7/26/2010   I re-run this little article every year, because it’s both important and fun to think about. At ABS we assume that our students get plenty of exposure to popular music, television, movies, commercial art, and coloring books. (If not, it’s usually because their parents intentionally choose to omit these things from the environment.) We try to give our students more exposure to art that requires them to “put some skin in the game.” We don’t dislike entertainment, but we know we have a short time to introduce them to art. When introducing our new staff to this concept, we offer them a sample of a Hostess Twinky, and ask them to compare it with a bite of a handmade pastry from a local artisan bakery. The adjectives they use to describe the two foods are collected on the board, and the Twinky lines up perfectly with descriptions of “entertainment”, while the artisan masterpiece lines up under “art.” The artisan bite is uniformly considered to be satisfying. The Twinky was repugnant to some, but was delightful comfort food to others; it’s predictable taste, texture, and packaging bringing back happy childhood memories. (We hope to create more nutritious memories for your children to recall!) Enjoy the following suggestion of the differences between art and entertainment:   ART                                                                              Expects you to “chew” Provokes and challenges Changes us Operates on multiple levels Is open to a variety of interpretations Is nuanced and subtle Nourishes Puts value on inner depth Created for meaning     ENTERTAINMENT                                                         “Goes down easy” Stays in the “comfort zone” Amuses us Makes a single or a simple point Is more one-dimensional Is obvious Satisfies the “sweet tooth” Puts value on the external Created to sell. [- Quoted from Randal Swiggum – the American Choral Directors Association]     Parking Lot News Thanks to each of you for being so careful and patient as we master the drop off and pick up routines in the parking lot.  A few notes…   -For morning drop off near MLK building, please pull all the way forward before letting your child out of the car.   This allows us to unload five cars at a time. Do not pass anyone in the line. Ideally, students should unload from the passenger side and move quickly to the...

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ABS Thursday Notes- August 15, 2019

Thursday Notes                        Published for the Arts Based School Community                           August 15, 2019 www.artsbasedschool.com     First Day of School –Wed, August 21st   How We Do It and Why by Mary Siebert   “Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” – Henri Matisse   Visiting artists are experts at adaptation. They have done their work in every environment from the most glamorous to the most rustic. These gifted and accomplished people are not new to the “gig economy,” a term adapted from the arts to reflect changes in hiring practices that are now industrywide; the piecing together of many small jobs, instead of signing on for a long tenure.   When these veterans visit our school, they are uniformly blown away. There is an energy and spirit here, among students and staff, that they report is palpably different from the many other schools they have visited. They observe more joy, more energy, more openness, more color. The students participate more readily. They are more self-expressed. The reasons for this are multiple, including arts integration and positive discipline. But one of the biggest factors is our wonderful staff.   Staff development at the start of each year is, of course, the time to present and review state-required materials, and to clarify curricular and policy goals or changes. But we reserve the first day as a moment when we can reignite friendships and positive alliances and draw any new staff into the exciting dynamic present at ABS. Our staff, predictably, made the most of this year’s first day and got us off to a roaring start.   The first moments were filled with joyful cheering, hugging, high-fives, introductions, congratulations, and general coffee-cup-clinking merry making. Then we began with drama games, led by “Mr. Bob” Moyer, which got us laughing, taking chances, remembering the value of incorporating these ideas into our instruction. That culminated in a massive slow-motion football game, including spectacular slow-motion falls.   We investigated personality differences through a fun activity to recognize and value our diverse ways of thinking and being. We learned a traditional song together as part of an arts-integrated examination of world water shortages. That led to an all-staff drawing activity, led by our art teacher, Elizabeth Gledhill. We recognized that, just as with our students, we could perform the same task while working at varied levels, everyone challenged in their own way. Some of our teachers were able to transform the simple drawings into characters that flashed personality or...

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