BY OLIVIA DORFMAN
Sixteen intently focused fourth-through-sixth grade Fairview Elementary School students sound out a complex string of nonsense syllables, a warmup for a drama class. They’re led by Connor Starks, an Indiana University freshman and Cardinal Stage Company intern. It’s all part of an arts-infused educational model Fairview adopted eight years ago.
Initiated by composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein, the Artful Learning program organizes the curriculum into interdisciplinary academic units centered around masterworks of art and curricular themes.
Fairview has created a wide range of special classes, like the performing arts elective, and made them a part of its Artful Learning curriculum.
“This [drama] piece was added last year, taking the place of traditional specials [like art and gym],” explains Principal Marti Colglazier. Students in grades three through six choose a three-times-a-week major and twice-a-week minor each fall and spring semester. Fairview now identifies itself as “An Artful Learning and Performing Arts Academy.”
Other specials include show choir, percussion, violin, musical keyboarding, 3-D ceramics, drawing/painting, and physical education.
For the past two years, Cardinal Stage has supplied theatrical expertise and help with costumes and props for the performing arts elective. It also provides instructors, funded by Fairview.
“We make no money on the program, but we want to have a presence in the schools,” says Gabe Gloden, Cardinal’s managing director. “Cardinal Stage Company has a long, rich history of working with children.”
Shannon Starks is the lead teacher with the drama class. “I love the idea of getting as many arts options in school as possible,” she says. Starks works with assistant teacher Mary Carol Reardon and accompanist Deanna Demes, both certified professional educators. Starks’ son, Connor, is the Cardinal Stage intern. As a team, they present diverse activities that teach elements of musical theater.
Colglazier says the special classes reinforce academic learning. For example, that vocal warm-up was also an exercise in pattern recognition, a cornerstone conceptual skill in the Indiana Academic Standards for Mathematics. “Our classes overlap,” Colglazier says. “The drama class has singing, speech, and grammar standards.”
Specials also make learning fun. “What we see is increased engagement in education, increased attendance,” Colglazier says. “The students like these classes. These classes are bringing our kids to school.”