There are art programs in schools. And there are schools devoted solely to art. A new charter school in Jefferson Parish is getting ready for a unique approach to education that uses art in traditional subjects.
Parents and children are signing up for a new elementary charter school in Gretna. It’s designed to teach the basics, like math and science, with help from the arts.
Lots of art: dance, theater and music will be part of the teaching tools.
Willie Rheams heard about the school and thought it might work for his 7-year-old daughter, Faith. So he and his wife attended a meeting for more information.
“They’re going to be — they say — learning without really knowing they’re learning," Rheams says. "And I know from experience kids learn a lot more when they’re like totally engaged, you know? And I thought that might be a good fit for her because the current school she’s at — while academically she did well in most areas, in some she struggled. But we felt like this school would be a better fit for her.”
That school is the Kate Middleton Elementary School.
No. Not that Kate Middleton.
The charter is named after a longtime teacher in Jefferson Parish public schools. It’s being operated by the nonprofit Young Audiences, which for the past 50 years has operated after-school arts programs in Louisiana with some classroom integration.
Roscoe Reddix is a Young Audiences storyteller. He’s been using dance, music and other art forms as teaching tools for the past 20 years, and will be one of the full-time artists at the new charter, working alongside teachers in developing curriculum.
He explains how his skills can be used in various subjects:
“One thing that you often see in science is cycles, and often through music a soundscape can be created that can represent the cycle," he says. "Or through dance, you could show the seasons. You could show birth-life-death kind of sequence — the life of an animal or some creature. I’ve seen the movement of planets through dance. Just something for children to hold on to and retain.”
That retention is thought to be key in developing critical thinking; that outside-the-box approach that creative businesses like Apple need in their staff.
Pam Stewart is director of charter school development for Young Audiences. She says the germ of a stand-alone school was planted about two years ago.
“We had 100 percent of our teachers that we surveyed said that the children in our programs were more actively engaged in their normal classroom when they had been in a Young Audiences residency or after-school program," Stewart says. "So we started looking at the data and realized if we’re doing this in an hour and a half, what is it going to look like, what could happen if we do it for eight hours a day?”
The person in charge of that experiment is first-time principal Folwell Dunbar. He’s been working in education for more than 20 years, from the Peace Corps to charter school operations around the country.
Dunbar says he hopes the students will advance toward not only an art education, but excel in the real world.
“Our mission is actually that all of our graduates get into the high school of their choice, be it a public school, a private school, a school here or a school on the other side of the country.”
The Kate Middleton School is planning to open in August with kindergarten through third-grade students. The next grade year will be added each year until it’s a full K-through-8 in 2018 with 800 students.
There are still some openings. Applications are available at yacharterschool.org.