Teaching through the arts
January 25, 2013
Approximately 2,500 students attend Nevada Union High School. It also embodies around 45 clubs, 22 sports and numerous other ways for kids to invest their time before or after school. A way to invest one's time at Nevada Union is through the renowned visual and performing arts departments. The students involved in these programs truly shine in their own unique individual talent. Even though throughout the school year there are a high number of choir performances, drama productions and student showcases, it is easy to forget the amazing resources NU has and the talent that sits among us every day. Luckily, English teacher Michael Cartan and dance director Courtney Wadman realized this fact and made the decision to do something about it.
Michael Cartan met with Courtney Wadman, and decided to do a project with the English 4AP students and the advanced dance class. He broke up his students into individual groups that were assigned to specific groups of dancers. These dancers would be the muses of the English students, the brilliant young ladies who would bring the poetry to life. For the following few weeks, the English groups met and had the option to write their own individual poem or choose a poem that had already been written. The poems picked ranged from "Beowulf" to "She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron to "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. Groups then decided on music — they could choose a pre-recorded song or record themselves reciting the poem and combine that with music.
When the English students met with the dancers, it was their job to explain the poem, how they foresaw what the dance would look like and the feelings behind the language and how they pictured the staging and lights. For the next month, the 4AP students continued to collaborate with the dance class and frequently go to their rehearsals to work on the pieces together.
"Fall for Dance" took place Dec. 7 and 8 in the Nevada Union dance room, and the dancers performed the "Poetry in Motion" projects. They choreographed their own movements that represented the emotions and stories behind the poems. It was a wonderful performance, and you could tell the dancers invested a lot of time and effort into making the final product a beautiful piece of work. Sitting in the audience, it was truly rewarding to see something that was once just words on paper in such an artistic nature.
Before the winter break, Superintendent Marianne Cartan came into the English 4AP class to talk to seniors about their experience at Nevada Union the past four years and anything they would have liked to see different. Miles Baker, captain of the Nevada Union debate team, brought up a very interesting point in regard to the Fall for Dance show:
"This project challenged students to push their boundaries and jump into something they don't normally do Baker said. It expanded peer communication. It asked that we look at English as art and dance as academic, challenging common conceptions of both.
"I believe that we need collaboration in all departments and the fact that that doesn't happen is an example of our school system's focus on teaching to the test and the fact that we have lost sight of what education is really supposed to do. I think we should have days set aside where collaboration would be possible, and I think that the schedule needs to be reevaluated before any real substantive collaboration can be achieved. In the meantime, we need more teachers like Mr. Cartan and Mrs. Wadman to take risks and innovate the way Nevada Union is taught."
After such a positive outcome, even a simple project that gave students the ability to combine arts with academics had a real impact. Sometimes, when a class is so geared toward "teaching to a test," it makes it hard for the students to be motivated as they don't see what they gain out of it. Though testing is an important aspect of an education system, Baker and many other peers have made the point that we cannot lose sight of the projects or assignments that will truly teach us something. The "Poetry in Motion" project gave students the ability to step out of their comfort zone and push the boundaries further than they even knew possible. Initial steps like this Fall for Dance show will hopefully show Nevada Union that maybe it is time to look outside the box, and start doing things that involve teaching through the arts.
Maya Anderman is a senior at Nevada Union high school.