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Bitney Prep’s math teacher swings

Submitted to The Union
Bitney Prep math teacher Allison Harper leads her students through some moves during Swing Dancing Club.
submitted photo

For years, Bitney Prep High School in Grass Valley has been bringing students together, sharing interests, and creating passions by offering a variety of clubs. From Cooking to Anatomy, Fashion to Photography, Peer Advocacy to Dungeons and Dragons, currently there are nine different student-organized or teacher-led clubs that Bitney students can choose from. One of the more popular clubs is the Swing Dancing Club led by Bitney Prep math teacher Allison Harper. “I wanted to share my love of swing dance with all my students,” Harper says. “It provides an opportunity for students to be active and find a healthy and safe way to spend their time. It also promotes socializing between students that otherwise may not connect.”

Harper knows about what she’s talking about. Seven years ago she was compelled to begin swing dancing after a good friend described how much fun he was having dancing with his friends. “His stories sounded like so much fun that I decided to try swing dancing myself,’’ says Harper. “I was hooked from the very first lesson! I loved that the dance style was about having fun and being goofy and that the lead/follow roles were not designated by gender.” After having taught swing dancing at community events and at the university she attended, Harper found the perfect opportunity to further share her passion for swing dancing with her students at Bitney. Following winter break last year, Bitney Prep held intersession classes that allowed teachers to share their own interests with students for a full week.

“The students seemed to really love it! After the intersession class, many students asked me to take them on field trips to dance in Sacramento and start a swing dance club. Each week at the club meetings, I would teach them a new move or a new style of dance and they were always eager to learn more. These same students are still attending a local event with me and some of the other staff members every other week.”

In addition to helping students build relationships with each other in meaningful ways, Harper has found methods to incorporate math into her swing dance lessons, using fractions and geometry to describe swing dance techniques to her students. “The biggest correlation between swing dancing and math would be the dance counts. East Coast swing is typically a six-count dance, where Lindy Hop and Charleston is an 8-count. In the dances, there are often half counts, as well. Additionally, we discuss fractions when doing turns: quarter turns, half turns, three-quarter turns. I will often use a little geometry when we talk about rotations, such as a full 360 degrees or a 90-degree turn.”

“I wanted to share my love of swing dance with all my students. It provides an opportunity for students to be active and find a healthy and safe way to spend their time.”— Allison HarperBitney Prep math teacher

In her math classes at Bitney, Harper encourages students to work together and help one another learn concepts that may be hard to understand on their own. In this way, learning swing dancing in similar because students help each other learn new moves, ask questions, and give feedback to their lead or follow about how each new move can be improved upon.

But above all else, it’s fun — and boy, does it swing.

Bitney Prep is a small charter High School located in the Brunswick Basin area of Grass Valley. Originally chartered over 20 years, Bitney started out as a college prep academy but has shifted focus in the last 5 years as part of the Big Picture Learning Network.

Bitney’s 95 or so students each spend all day, every Wednesday, at an internship of their choice. Through this program, they learn from local business professionals and discover which career path may be right for them. Bitney has student interns all over the county, at local veterinarian hospitals, radio stations, artist studios, newspapers, automotive repair shops, elementary schools, and other small businesses of every shape and size.

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