Day 28: The (new) First Day of School

So many developments have come about since my last post.  (For more on the title of this post please read down toward the bottom…  I like to utilize the tool of suspense when I write.  :-))

First, artists are in the classrooms!  Horray! 

Our second grade students will actually hit the town or, rather, the neighborhood, tomorrow with our Urban Designer/Planner, Libby Kaiser.  The students have been investigating their own community and how it has grown and changed over time.  Similarly Libby has brought in some maps from China’s development project for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  The kids are mesmerized by the Chinese culture, much to the credit of our fantastic Chinese language and movement teachers here at the school.  Linking the greater world with our own surroundings is a key component to this second grade unit of study.  I am thrilled to see the kids so interested in geography!  High five, Libby!

Our first grade students are working with Cat Chengery, our Theatre Artist, to explore the human body.  This exploration includes a lot of “on your feet ” movement which requires the students to use and identify various parts of their body.  From there the students will explore the notion of senses, and how they relate to the world around us.  I am excited to see where the journey leads, as it seems it may result in some interactive installation pieces on display in the hallways.  Way to think outside of the box, Cat!

The last grade to work with a Community Artist is Kindergarten.  As you can imagine, a class of 30+ little ones is no easy circumstance in which to try to teach dance; but Elise Butler is doing so with grace.  The children have learned their cardinal directions through song and movement.  I am happy to announce that now even I know the Spanish words for North, South, East and West!  Further, the kids are allowing the magnitude of mountains, the flow of water, and the structures of  buildings to inhabit their bodies.  One teacher noted that one particular student, “must be a kinesthetic learner because I’ve never seen him so engaged!”  Nice work, Elise…  This is exactly what we were aiming for when we envisioned this program.

We also had a very successful first after school event titled “Art Around the World“.  At this event we featured the exploration conducted by Ms. Garrido’s second grade class.  The students have become fascinated (and, arguably, a little obsessed :-)) with the big blue horse at the Denver International Airport.  This 32 foot tall sculpture is famously frightening with its big red eyes.  Ms.Garridos’ students informed the audience that this mysterious structure actually collapsed and killed its maker.  The sculptor’s son was the person who finished the piece of art and gave the beast its red eyes.

This investigation naturally led to a small “gallery walk” in our auditorium of other public art pieces around the world.  Likewise, we had a salsa performance, a didgeridoo performance and a Chinese gymnastics and kong fu demonstration to complete our creative journey around the world.  I am THRILLED to say that this event proved to be the most unifying and celebratory event the school has had to date!  I am so very happy to know we have a community so supportive of the arts.

Now, on to that “new second day of school” business… While things are looking good in artsy land, not all is well in the state of Denmark (as some have said).

As you can imagine, our school is under the microscopic lens of the district, the state and countless other stakeholders who want to see us succeed.  (And sometimes it also feels like some would like to see us fail.)  The result has been a revolving door at our school into which numerous people come to assess, observe, and scrutinize.  And while sometimes I think that there should be room for more development, more time to flesh out strategies and methods, there is some truth to what these critics say.  For as we all will certainly agree, when it comes to teaching and learning, there is no time for error.

So…  In response to observations from the outside, our school has retracted its “immersive” teaching model.  Meaning…  Spanish-speaking students will remain with their Spanish-speaking teachers for most of the day, excluding the time when they will be in their English Language Development (ELD) classes.  And of course the same goes for our English-speaking students, only the other way around.  Basically, we have learned the hard way that immersion can only work from the bottom up.  So our pre-school kids are now the only students who will continue on with the immersive model of instruction.  Eventually our school will be an immersion school once again, but we need to take the time to place the building blocks – the foundation – before arriving there.

So today is the new first day of school.  Kindergarteners, first graders and second graders arrived today to new classrooms, new home room teachers.  Their daily schedule has changed.  Their lunch times are different.  The rules and routines have been modified and made standard school-wide.  We hope that making such a sweeping change early on will lead to academic and behavioral improvements from all DCISF students. 

These changes, of course, are not without their consequences…  Teachers are tired – very tired.  Classes that were first being taught only in one language must now be taught by all teachers in all languages.  And my program, the Integrated Global Arts (IGA) program, has shifted around and been squashed a bit, in terms of length of classroom time.  Artists are simply not in the classroom as often as I would prefer.  (Not yet anyway.  :-))

What this means is that we need to remain flexible…  and positive.  We need to keep our eyes and hearts on the goals we have set.  We need to remember that those things in life that are the most precious and rewarding are always worth the effort. 

I had a thought the other day while soaking in the bathtub (my favorite thinking place).  Conozco este es posible.  These words come from my heart.  And as Shakespeare so eloquently put it,  “There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  So in spite of our challenges, and maybe even because of them, I know this is possible. 

Thanks for reading.  Until next time… Adios!

TC