When Bennett Park Montessori School #32 in Buffalo, New York, aligned all of the pieces for its intergenerational drumming and dancing sessions, it had a short window of opportunity in which to begin the program. With just three days for families to reply, Judy Fix, the school's principal, fully expected about a dozen parents to respond.
"The next day we had dozens of replies with multiple people wanting to attend," Fix recalled. "The following day had an even bigger response. On the morning of the event replies were still coming in -- the total was around 125 (for a school of 490). The parable of the loaves and fishes had new meaning for us."
Fix called the director of Musicians United for Superior Education (MUSE) and asked her to bring any drums that she had -- fast! MUSE has been a cultural partner of the school for more than fifteen years. The partnership began with offering African drumming and dancing lessons and branched out into Latin drumming and dancing.
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When school and organization representatives met to discuss the program last year, they began to see intergenerational drumming and dancing as a natural extension of the students' learning. MUSE secured funding from the New York State Council on the Arts and private donations. School officials were able to keep the school open in the evenings by hosting Teacher Center courses in the building. Dinner was provided for the attending families through parent involvement funds.
"The evening was a success and continued to be a success for the entire series of workshops," Fix told Education World. "The dinner gave us an opportunity to discuss not only the evening drumming but to explain to families how it impacted their children academically and socially as well. The dinner was also helpful for working parents who could get out of work, pick up their children, and come to school."
Dinner usually featured pizza, vegetables, animal crackers, and drinks, and was an essential convenience for the attendees. An hour of instruction for families by MUSE drummers and dancers followed. Fix noted that students frequently asked when the next session of lessons would occur and encouraged their friends to participate.
Families brought cultural food and artifacts and even their friends to the workshops. During the last week of the lesson series, the families shared their favorite dishes and the recipes for a "Taste of Montessori" meal and cookbook. It was heartwarming to see the students interacting with their families and often teaching their parents the drumming techniques, says Fix.
"After the first week we set up some alternate activities for young children," she explained. "Drumming is hard work and the youngest children sometimes needed a break before returning. We were also flexible in allowing families to come in late and still join the drumming and dancing, and we listened when parents suggested ideas for the workshops."
Bennett Park is now preparing to host its second annual intergenerational drumming and dancing workshops. With the help of MUSE, this year the entire student population, from preschool through eighth grade, will also produce an Italian opera.