Posts Tagged 'Arts in Education'



Twelfth Night

Last week was a big one for our theatre department, and for the school! Not only did theatre students make it to the semifinals at the state drama festival (the first time we’ve ever participated), but we had an amazing collaboration with Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) to produce Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

The presence of local professional actors, board members and supporters of ASP who came to Thursday’s reception and performance was very powerful. The Boston Foundation was gracious to join forces with BAA and ASP, and Paul Grogan and Elizabeth Pauley both joined us for the Thursday evening performance. An overwhelming number of faculty and staff attended the shows, even on their weekend time- a testament to the hard work of our theatre department!

BAA students playing Sir Toby Belch and Maria

Our amazing student Penelope took on the role of Viola at the last minute, going from understudy to the lead in just one week. One of the most poignant moments I’ve witnessed was renowned actress Paula Plum watching Penelope perform that role, which Paula has undoubtedly played herself, with pride in her eyes. I loved the seriousness of purpose that our students exuded,  and the artistic excellence that resulted!

The joy and pride in this type of authentic learning was heartening in the face of MCAS (more to come on THAT!)… The anxiety and numbing-ness of these tests is so sharply juxtaposed with the gift that was Twelfth Night. It reminds me again that schools done well can be cultural institutions. Last week, we were!

Twelfth Night cast with Actors’ Shakespeare Project co-directors Michael Forden Walker and Jason Bowen

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Arts Education Needs to be Protected

Monday’s piece in the Globe by Mayor Menino and Laura Perille “Arts Education Needs to be Protected” highlights Boston’s wonderful efforts to bring access to a high-quality arts education to all of its students. As the article cites, and as I write in my recent article in Educational Leadership magazine “All Students are Artists,” arts education is proven both qualitatively and quantitatively to engage students who otherwise can struggle to connect with school.

We at Boston Arts Academy are grateful to play a role in this effort to provide arts education to the city’s public school students. We’ve partnered with both the Dever-McCormack and the Edison for years with our Academy Strings program. This summer, we will be piloting Four Strings Academy (FSA), founded by Mariana-Green Hill. FSA is a summer program run through the Center for Arts in Education at Boston Arts Academy to provide summer strings instruction. We hope to expand this type of program to the other arts disciplines in future summers. Our Center is also piloting a program called Alumni Creative Corps, where we are training BAA graduates to teach the arts in other district schools where principals and teachers have defined a need for such opportunities.

It is abundantly clear that Boston needs and deserves the arts. This year, BAA had a total of 947 applicants. 659 came to audition- the greatest number we have received to date. We admitted 153 students to join BAA in September 2012, the most we could accept, given our facilities and resources. We are thankful for the opportunity to work with many principals, administrators and teachers, to visit schools, and to educate students and families about BAA- and we are proud that out of the 153 students accepted, 124 came from Boston Public Schools- over 80% of accepted applicants!

We know firsthand that access to the arts is not a luxury, but a necessity. We will continue our work with Boston Public Schools and beyond through our Center for Arts in Education, and are grateful that the city of Boston is partnering with EdVestors to expand arts education for all students in the city!

Instructional Rounds

Last Thursday we hosted Instructional Rounds (IR) at BAA. Instructional rounds are the new buzzword in education, largely defined by Lee Teitel and Richard Elmore at Harvard. The purpose of the rounds is to analyze and improve teaching and learning practices at the classroom level. Although I’m not completely convinced yet how helpful the results of the observations are, what IS powerful is getting teachers, students, parents, and administrators out of their routines and looking deeply at the practices of teaching and learning in a different context and through a different lens than they experience during the day-to-day.

I am proud that BAA was the first Boston Public School to have students and parents participate in the rounds. They were absolutely phenomenal. The parents were honored to be a part of the process and found it extremely helpful to think about the school as a whole rather than just the needs of their own student.  The 5 students who participated spoke eloquently and passionately about the positive aspects of BAA, as well as pointed out the real challenges for including all learners.

One of my favorite comments came from a BAA music student who pointed out the differences between the theatre student warm-ups she observed and the music vocal warm-ups she experiences in her own classes. She enjoyed how theatre students both warmed up their bodies and built community at the same time, and she was excited to bring that practice back to her music classes. I loved watching this mini “teaching moment” happening for a student!

Later that evening at my HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education) class, three seniors from a new turnaround high school came and spoke. They were all transferred to this new school after their high schools were closed for underperformance. Despite the fact that they had experienced their previous schools firsthand and hold a wealth of information about what worked and didn’t work for them, they told my class that they had no input on structures or practices at their new school. Their disempowerment and lack of engagement in the process of constructing their own educations was jarring, especially after watching parents and students blossom during the IR at BAA earlier that morning.

The takeaway from last Thursday for me was this: when we’re thinking about school reform, I am reminded again that we need to put the voices of students and parents at the forefront of the discussion. How do we incorporate these voices so that they are not an afterthought, but a forethought? After all, who is school reform really for?

Stonehill College

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to a group of emerging young educators at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. Stonehill Professor Karen Anderson (the wife of a Boston Public Schools science educator- small world!) assigns “The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test” to her students in the course “Learning to Teach III” and the book inspired a student in the Stonehill Education Society to reach out and invite me to speak on campus. I so enjoyed engaging with this group of students and answering their insightful questions about urban education! Many thanks to them for hosting me!

Occupy the Department of Education!

I had to blog about Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher from this past Sunday’s New York Times… everyone needs to read this article so we can stop and think about how our federal and state policies are affecting teachers and kids in our classrooms.
I will be joining BAA teachers and many others in Washington, DC at Occupy the DOE (Department of Education) at the end of March for a teach-in to underscore how limiting and short-sighted so many of our current policies are. They are based on an “I gotcha” mentality- on how we can “improve” education by punishing teachers and kids.
I know it’s complicated to create a system of accountability that actually trusts teachers, but we must try. As Johnson points out in this NYT article, the messages we are sending teachers are confusing and contradictory, and the ways we are assessing kids and teachers are ludicrous.
We cannot hope to have engaged students and young people who want to participate in our fragile democracy with such backwards policies. We must be the change we want to see. Let’s organize and go to DC!

Reflections from Haiti

I recently traveled to Haiti with other Barr Foundation Fellows. I hope you will read my reflections on this amazing experience (though I do admit- they are long!) I look forward to hearing any comments or questions!

Reflections from San Diego and Los Angeles

In mid-December, I spent some time in San Diego and LA, visiting schools and speaking with educators. One of the most gratifying parts of this trip was reconnecting with a former graduate student of mine from the first year I ever taught my class, “Building A Democratic School” at Harvard. Agustin Vecino now works for the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) in Los Angeles as a coach for the pilot schools. He and Rachel Bonkovsky (a former Boston principal), along with George Simpson and Assistant Principal Cara Livermore (formerly of BAA and now of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA)) arranged all of my stops on the trip.

San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts (SDSCPA)

Principal Mitzi Lizarraga showed me around her school (http://www.sandi.net/scpa) of 1400 students in grades 6-12. Entrance to the middle school is lottery based, and high school admission is through audition. The motto of the school is, “Where arts and academics share center stage.” Mitzi shared that her charge is to intensify the arts experiences and exposure of her students; she also must raise funds for much needed arts residencies and adjunct teachers. [Note: SDSCPA vocal arts major Victoria Matthews recently received a 2012 YoungArts Merit Award in Voice- congratulations to Victoria and to SDSCPA!]

Like many schools in San Diego, the campus seemed quite sprawling to my urban Northeastern eyes!

On this lucky day for me, choreographer and dance professor Donald McKayle was in residence to audition students for his piece “House of Tears,” based on the “desaparecidos” from Argentina. The high school dancers crowded onto the dance studio floor and listened with rapt attention to McKayle. He spoke about his experiences in Buenos Aires watching the “madres de los desaparecidos” march around the Plaza Mayor with photographs of their disappeared children, who had been murdered or stolen by the junta.

SDSCPA dancers

Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA)

From San Diego, I headed for Los Angeles and LACHSA, where George Simpson is principal. (George was formerly the director of music at BAA!)  The same excitement I felt at San Diego’s school was evident here. Students were hanging a juried show about Arts and Engagement in the visual arts wing. Music students had just finished their jazz series. Theatre students had just done “Preview Night,” which is like our informal showing at BAA. Dancers were gearing up for their winter performances. Exhaustion and elation were on everyone’s faces. “Passion with balance” seemed in short supply.

LACHSA is located on the CalState LA campus. Also on the campus are the LA Principal Residency Network and the LA Urban Teacher Residency program. (These are both programs of the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE), an organization that I co-founded with Larry Myatt in Boston over fifteen years ago.) George had organized an event for me at CalState called “Transformative Leadership,” where I talked with members of both networks as well as other educators from surrounding schools and not-for-profits. We shared ideas about our perspective realities and reacquainted ourselves with the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) 10 common principles, considering where we did/didn’t see these principles in our work.

George Simpson, Agustin Vecino, Carolyn McNight, Debbie Thompson

East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy

The next day, I visited the East LA Performing Acts Academy, headed by Principal Carolyn McKnight. The faculty of this pilot school was joined by the Humanitas Academy of Arts and Technology faculty and principal Debbie Thompson, as well as district folks and a superintendent. Both of these schools have converted to pilot status in the past two years. Later I met with the faculty and principal Rosie Martinez from the Academic Leadership Community (ALC), another pilot school in the throes of trying to attain the autonomies that are promised to Pilot Schools (much like those of charter schools), which include: budget, governance, curriculum and assessment, hiring and scheduling, and calendar.

The theme for all three pilot schools was the autonomies and how to ensure they were being met. These are familiar themes for us in Boston. While districts, especially urban districts, are often initially open to pilot schools, the intricacies of actually devolving power and control away from central office and central mandates and into the hands of principals and teachers is always more challenging. If LA and Boston could do more collaborative work, we might strengthen all of our schools and create a system of trust around pilot schools.

UCLA

From ALC I traveled to UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies to give a talk to their Teacher Education Program and Principal Leadership Institute. A lively group of about 30 of us talked about what makes good schools, how the CES principles can help guide schools, and the struggles of each of us in sustaining good schools.

In this whirlwind tour of schools, talks, and intense conversations with committed educators, I came away grateful for the opportunity to learn from educators on the other side of the country. I reconnected with friends and re-charged myself to return to the work we are doing in Boston and beyond.


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