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Staying Focused And Balanced


Despite the demands of preparing for high-stakes tests, Parkville has made time for the past 11 years for a movement and dance program that touches on timely issues and involves students from other communities. Included: A description of an arts programs culminating performance.

About This Series

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending time this school year at Parkville Community School in Hartford, Connecticut, to report on the challenges an urban school faces and the strategies it employs in its quest to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act.
 

Despite the especially high-stakes pressures attached to this years high-stakes tests, Parkvilles administrators managed to fit in some innovative programs and the chance for students to make new friends.

In early May, some Parkville fourth-through-sixth graders joined with students from Canton Intermediate School, in rural/suburban Canton, Connecticut, and the Montessori Magnet School, in Hartford, to perform dances to illustrate the book, The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest at Trinity Colleges ice rink.

Some of the Parkville and Canton students have been pen pals during the year and gone on field trips together, so the dance program also was a chance for friends from the very different communities to see one another.

Animals and elements prepare to plea for the great Kapok tree. (Education World photo)

The Parkville students had been working since January with members of the Judy Dworin Performance Project and student volunteers from Trinity on a dance and movement program. They also had read the book in class.

Its really important to learn to work together, Deborah Goffe, a member of the dance company, told some Parkville students during one of the early sessions in January. Otherwise, youll have chaos on the dance floor.

MONKEYS AND SNAKES AND TREE FROGSOH, MY!

For the performance, students wore different colored shirts with pictures of the animal or element of the rain forest they were representing. As the story was read, the animals took turns performing to live music to convince the purple-shirted wood cutters (the Canton students) not to chop down their Kapok tree. The tree, the story noted, provided shade, homes, and other benefits to the forest-dwellers.

A large replica of a Kapok tree was in the center of the rink -- when the wood cutters arrived, the animals scattered.

The monkeys wait their turn to dance for the Kapok tree. (Education World photo)

Soon each group of animals took a turn dancing in an effort to save the tree -- students danced into creative positions, sometimes hoisting each other up and holding poses. The snakes wound and crawled their way into the center of the rink. The monkeys, worried that the forest would become a desert without trees, swayed their bodies and swung their arms about as part of their plea. Toucans waved their arms to the beat of the music. Tree frogs hopped with vigor.

Red ant eaters lumbered on all fours and blue tree sloths were poised as they formed a pyramid in the center.

You can tell they are having fun, Parkville fifth-grade teacher Ms. Palm said during the performance. They are loving it.

Dont invite a partner in who doesnt help get you where you are going.

Other students took the shape of the sun in the center of the rink. Some were part of the circle, while others rolled around the edge. Students in light blue shirts portraying the water fluttered their arms.

The wind blew and students acted out what would happen without trees to hold the soil. Some had arms and legs up in the air.

In the end, the appeals of the animals and elements were successful, and they gathered around the Kapok and danced when the tree was spared by the wood cutters.

FINDING THAT BALANCE

This is the 11th year Parkville has partnered with the dance company. Students learned about movement and dance, worked on their parts at school, and then joined the Canton and Montessori students for a one-hour rehearsal before the show to put it all together.

The rain forest dwellers and the elements celebrate once the Kapok tree is safe. (Education World photo)

With all the pressure to improve student academic performance, principal Elizabeth Michaelis said she sometimes worries about giving up precious classroom time to outside programs.

You have to watch it; its February and you use every single minute, and you see groups going different places and get nervous, she told Education World. Sometimes that is difficult for me, but this helps develop the whole child.

Michaelis said she can see the benefits of the Dworin program and is reluctant to give it up. The themes [of the performances] apply to the real world and spark curiosity, she said. I noticed the kids were all on task during rehearsals. Discipline, self-control, and teamwork also were stressed during the movement instruction.

These types of programs fit in with what the school is doing but they dont fit all the time, Michaelis added. Her advice to other administrators trying to strike a balance between what they need to do and what they want to do: Dont invite a partner in who doesnt help get you where you are going.

And as most educators know, lessons come in all different forms. After the show, a girl from Parkville and one from Canton hugged each other.