“Once upon a time, there were 3 little pigs. Everybody give me an oink. Oink oink..”
Two actors from AD Players, a local theater company, are here to teach theater. Their students are 3 year olds from the Small Steps Nurturing Center in the First Ward, near downtown. At this age, it’s basically just make believe. But Craig Griffin, one of the actors, says even this builds valuable skills.
“It’s something we all have to learn, how to pretend, how to imagine. We’ll have them tell stories, just the structure of a story, that it’s got a beginning, middle, and end, that it has characters, setting, a place that you are, so they begin to put all those things together.”
Many of the children in this low income neighborhood have parents who work long hours, and few options for early education. AD Players comes twice a week to tell stories and play theater games. The Executive Director of Small Steps, Evan Harrell, says that this have real neurological benefits.
“What imaginary play does is support what neurologists call executive function. Children’s ability to order their work, decide what task they choose next, to put off tasks, and to wait and delay what they need to do.”
(Sounds of Chinese music)
At Jackson Middle School in the East End, 6th graders slither through the cafeteria in a Chinese dragon dance. As part of their World Cultures class, a teacher from the Houston Ballet has taught them salsa, the waltz, and African dance.
Under a grant from the Department of Education, HISD is studying whether these students, and those at 9 other schools, do better on the TAKS test after 4 years of the arts integrated into their classes. This is Dr. Cynthia Herbert, the external evaluator of the study.
“What we found was that these students did as well or better on all the TAKS measures, without having to have an overkill on the drill and kill approach, that they were able to have these wonderful enriching experiences and still succeed academically.”
The arts integrated schools and a control group are all predominantly low income, with similar initial TAKS scores. Though the scores of the arts integrated schools grew about as much as the control schools over 3 years, 6th grade teacher Daniel Santos says he sees other improvements.
“To understand how to organize themselves, how to discipline themselves, when they’re learning different choreography, different moves, they can apply that in all of their classes with organization, understanding that there’s a pattern”
Those are the same skills AD Players hopes to cultivate in their very young ones.
From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez.