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Nontraditional school activities get students more involved

Posted September 13

— How often have you participated in an African drumming circle?

At Fairview Elementary School, some students get to do just that every other day.

Others are learning how to play the violin or the keyboard, or they get to be a part of a show choir or hip-hop dance group.

These unconventional approaches to elementary education are all part of Fairview's Artful Learning curriculum, and teachers and instructors at the school say it's paying off.

Kathy Heise is the music director at Fairview and helps coordinate the different programs. She says providing a variety of options to students, especially at such a young age, is crucial to a well-rounded education.

"A lot of kids have a lot of different talents. It's important to provide those options so kids can try things out for themselves," Heise said. "A lot of the things we do in the arts here directly impact the curriculum."

Heise said students are more attentive and engaged during other subjects and that attendance is constantly getting better.

"They're becoming more comfortable and they can actually see the benefits for themselves," she said.

One popular class is the show choir group, run by Brennan Wilder and Richard Baskin from BEAT, or Bloomington Expressive Arts Training, which has 55 students participating on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday, they teach the hip-hop dance class to a smaller group, which also counts as the student's physical education credit. Wilder said many students started out meekly but have since opened up.

"They're responding awesome. The first time we came, they were like 'What are we doing?'" Wilder said. "You see more of an independence in the kids. They're in charge of what their schedule is, they're able to pick things that they want to do, and that gives them some ownership over what they're doing in school."

Since the beginning of the program, Wilder and Baskin said, they've offered scholarships to four students to participate in BEAT's competitive junior high show choir.

"It's important to open as many doors as possible for these kids, because then they'll have choices," Baskin said.

Behind another of those doors is the African drumming class, which attracts around 25 kids every Tuesday and Thursday. Those students are instructed by Bernard Woma, Joyce Woma and Ben Handel in Ghanaian drumming styles and dances, called Palango.

"We started this program as a way to educate children in a different way, using African music as a lens of getting children to learn how they can use their bodies and minds at the same time," Bernard Woma said.

For a group of students who can have trouble staying still in a desk for 30 seconds, the accuracy with which they stayed on beat as a group was impressive.

"It's been a learning process for everyone involved, because this is brand new for me, for Joyce (to teach that many children) and for the students to learn this style," Handel said. "But we've kind of hit our stride, and they're really starting to learn a lot."

As Woma danced in the middle of the drum circle, upstairs in the dance studio the hip-hop group loosened up with a bit of yoga. Neither activity has been traditionally taught in schools, and Heise said with the introduction of these and other classes, the change in the student body is clear.

"I see a lot more smiles," she said.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, http://bit.ly/2crcePZ

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