Storytelling and street dance: a Hop/school partnership

Stephanie Pacheco

One of the most rewarding aspects of the Hop’s Community Venture Initiative (CVI), now in its third year, is the opportunity to create community partnerships that are intentional, inspirational and collaborative. The Hop’s Outreach & Arts Education department has a long history of partnering with Upper Valley schools through school matinee performances, assembly outreach, START (Students Teaching in the Arts) and in-school workshops. However, these programs are often “one-offs,” dictated by busy school calendars and visiting artist tour schedules.

With support from CVI, we approached the South Royalton School to see if there was interest in creating a sustained, year-long arts education program—reaching every child in grades pre-K through 12 during the 2015/2016 school year. Principal Dean Stearns was an early champion of the proposal, and the teachers were enthusiastic. Our collective goal was to identify the school’s most pressing teaching and learning objectives and build an arts partnership that would support these objectives.

For the elementary teachers, a curriculum-based literacy program was key; for the middle and high school levels, world cultures took center stage. The resulting pilot includes programs engaging students at all grade levels, including a live performance and an interactive, intergenerational storytelling booth at SoRo’s Back to School Open House in September; a six-week in-school residency by teaching artist Simon Brooks, who helped students in grades 1-4 embrace reading and writing by telling their own stories; tickets and transportation to six shows at the Hop, including several school matinees and a special family show for parents to attend with their child; workshops in South Royalton by Brazilian visiting artists Companhia Urbana de Dança; and professional development for teachers.

Following a successful fall residency by Brooks, SoRo’s Community Based Learning Educator Mary Waterman remarked, “The school’s educators, together with partners like the Hop, are inspiring students to actively participate in reading, writing and oral communication through our literacy theme of Travel with a Friend.” Waterman is already seeing the impact of the Hop residency, as teachers begin to integrate theatrical role play and storytelling into other lesson plans in the classroom. CVI has enabled Hop staff to deliver programs of depth and breadth, working closely with one community to explore how the arts can support students’ growth academically, socially, emotionally, physically and creatively. If kids and teachers have a little fun along the way, so much the better!