From Salsa to Socioemotional Growth: The Benefits of School & Arts Partnerships

The 4th grade teacher at Cayuga Elementary came out into the hall and apologetically whispered to the teaching artists that there was a scheduled fire drill about to happen. The bell sounded and the drill was executed with speed and efficiency to get the students back into the classroom as quickly as possible to not take time from that morning’s weekly session of Koresh Kids Dance, a dance residency being taught by two teaching artists from the Koresh Dance Company, a Philadelphia dance company currently in its 25th season. I imagined the kids would return distracted by the change in routine, but within seconds of re-entering the room their teacher had them sitting cross-legged on the floor, desks and chairs having already been pushed out of the way, and facing the teaching artists. In total silence the teaching artists welcomed the students with a big smile and very focused eye contact with each of the twenty or so kids, receiving smiles in return and preparing for the dance class by gaining each student’s full attention. Still in total silence, using a hand gesture of two fingers from one hand pointed down onto their open palm of the other, the teaching artists brought the entire class quickly and quietly to its feet – it was time to dance.

Koresh Kids Dance is one of fifteen arts education programs included in a research project commissioned by the William Penn Foundation to explore the impact of arts education on students’ lives. The evaluation, which was conducted by WolfBrown, focused on whether or not arts education programs partnering with Philadelphia schools benefit students’ socioemotional skills, a set of intra- and interpersonal skills that underlie students’ success in school and life. These include the ability to manage behavior and make effective decisions, maintain positive self-esteem, and interact productively with others. The findings of this robust study, with data collected over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years from nearly 900 Philadelphia students, are presented in WolfBrown’s report The Socioemotional Benefits of the Arts: A New Mandate for Arts Education.

The study found there were instances where arts education positively impacted all students despite the extremely diverse study cohort. One key finding that stood out is that arts education partnership programs build all students’ interest in the arts, an aspect of self-awareness.

The study also shows us that arts education partnerships provide the following benefits to students:

  • Positively impact students’ growth mindset (i.e., when students believe they can get smarter, and understand that effort makes them stronger learners). Specifically, elementary school students in arts education partnership programs develop a stronger orientation to taking on and working through challenges than peers who don’t have these opportunities.
  • Bolster students’ artistic identity. For high school students, school days enriched by arts enable them to grow increasingly confident that they can achieve and succeed in the arts, compared to their peers without arts education partnerships who showed a significant drop in artistic self-confidence.
  • Improve engagement in school. Finally, regardless of age, participating in arts partnership programs help students who are interested in school stay connected to and interested in school, whereas peers without these same arts opportunities were seen to experience a steep decline in school engagement.

 

It is important to note that the above findings encompass all fifteen programs and do not pertain solely to Koresh Kids Dance; however, we can see examples of the changes experienced by student in arts education programs in the answers the Cayuga students gave their teacher when asked about their experience with Koresh. When asked if participating in this class has changed how they feel or think about themselves, 4th grader Diomani reported, “Yes…because before I never knew I could dance, but now I can.” And when asked what he was most proud about learning in dance class, he responded, “I am proud that I learned to dance” – a satisfying response to receive from a young person in a mandatory dance program, a young person that might otherwise not have this piqued interest in dance or sense of accomplishment of learning to dance if not for Koresh Kids Dance. When asked what skills he learned that he can apply to his other classes, Diomani’s classmate Cyan responded immediately: “teamwork.”

Cyan went on to say, “And we learned new skills with dancing in different countries.” They are currently learning salsa, a dance from the Caribbean which their classmate Daviann said is hard. But Daviann and her classmates keep trying and they all eventually learn a new dance. This experience enables students to build their perseverance, which helps them as they come back each week to learn new dances and create their own choreography – highlighted in this video clip of students practicing original dances on the theme of love in their city, love in their neighborhood, and love in their hearts.

 

 

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More About Koresh Kids Dance

Launched in 2006 and currently offering its 11th school year of residencies, Koresh Kids Dance partners with seven Philadelphia School District schools across the city and reaches over 400 students. The main objective is to “facilitate the dance that already exists within students, and through the exploration of creative dance concepts, increase their understanding of self-expression as well as further develop their skills in dance. Through the classes, students are constantly moving which improves their physical fitness, increases overall confidence and social skills, and develops creativity.” In the weekly sessions that last from 45 minutes to an hour, students participate in warm-up activities, call and response welcome rituals, and set intentions for their dances. They break into smaller groups and work to creatively develop dances that express concepts and emotions, based on their own personal dancing traditions as well as movements that have been taught to them. They study the language of movements, learn about other cultures and new styles of dance, and work ultimately towards an end-of-year performance for their families and peers comprised almost entirely of movement generated by the students. In addition to their student-generated performance, the partnering classrooms attend a performance by the professional dancers of Koresh Dance Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre titled “Styles of Dance” that introduces the students to jazz, hip hop, ballet, and tap. Outside of their sessions with the visiting teaching artists, students complete journal entries that reflect what their dance experience has been like, as well as what other concepts or new knowledge they have gained regarding the core subject matter that is brought into the dance lessons.