Part of my arts engagement work means making connections with our local schools. I had a meeting with a rock star middle school choir teacher this afternoon that brought me back to my former work with the Toledo Muse Machine.
The Toledo Muse Machine was an extension of the program that started in Dayton in the 1980s. The program is going strong in Dayton, but it ended in Toledo in 2001. It was an arts integration program that connected the nonprofit arts organizations to learning opportunities for secondary level teachers and students. I arranged in school arts assemblies, group tickets for main stage performances in music, theatre, dance, and art exhibits. I also provided monthly teacher training in which I developed very strong relationships with a group of dedicated teachers of various academic disciplines.
The program reached 20 counties in northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. There were dozens of teachers. Each of them taught me so much about listening to the needs of the kids. They were masters of a daily balancing act. Between structuring lesson plans for a wide range of learning styles while also meeting state mandated curricular requirements, they still managed to bring a sense of wonder and joy to their schools. I loved them all. But there was one special teacher, Kathy Bragg.
Kathy knew how important it was to expose her students to multiple experiences. She also rallied her school district to take advantage of every opportunity offered. She was a “Yes” teacher. And I would do anything to support her.
I’m lucky enough to work with other teachers like that in Bethlehem. At one of the local middle schools, Ms. Parker, Mr. Bellman, and Ms. Arena started an anti-bullying project a few years ago that evolved into the Peace Rally. Last year I was able to facilitate a performance of their student work at Lehigh. Fortunately, the event was documented in this wonderful video expertly produced by Stephanie Veto:
Today, I met with Ms. Parker in her office after a rehearsal following a long school day. We talked about all the possibilities that could happen for the middle school students at Lehigh. She gave me guidance for some programs and was willing to help me make more connections with other teachers.
I told her about three guest artists that might interest her students, a school show in April that might be good for students after their musical theater production and just before they kick into spring concerts, and a piece composed by one of our faculty. I can’t wait to report all of this back to my colleagues and start making this all happen. And the best thing is that she’s coming to the guest artist this Friday, and we might go salsa dancing after the show at the local Puerto Rican club!
My kids say that Ms. Parker is amazing. They say that even the seminar kids don’t mind more math and science courses because they get to spend one hour a week with Ms. Parker. Ms. Parker remembers every student’s name -and their parents. Ms. Parker stays in touch with former students. She invites them back to the middle school to participate in arts experiences because she knows they will love it. Ms. Parker dances and sings with the students. Ms. Parker brings joy to her school.
Ms. Parker is a yes teacher. And I will do anything I can to support her teaching.