Approaches to Education: The Importance of Creative Arts
Matilda Raffa Cuomo and JENNIFER WARD
USA recognizes that the value of dance, drama and the visual arts
in these uncertain times are particularly crucial. Youth often
do not know how to express their inner feelings and many may not
want to speak about their fears and anger. The arts can provide
them a less-threatening outlet to communicate. Many volunteers
have come forward to Mentoring USA to offer their talents at sites,
working to provide youth and mentors alike with creative projects.
Week after week we have seen these projects flourish and allow
children moments of pride in their own work and opportunities
to express, and talk about, what is troubling them.
As Howard Gardner taught us many years ago, there are multiple
intelligences and therefore different ways of looking at and interpreting
the world and of learning. Many youth find conventional classroom
settings, with their emphasis on reading, writing and quiet learning,
difficult environments. Special approaches to education, particularly
those that rely on creative and often physical expression, are
important to utilize and respect.
The arts in education should be encouraged and supported in all
our public and private schools.
Here is one teacher-mentor’s story of how yoga and dance led two
young women to find pathways to success.
Alicia: She had ponytails in her hair, and a smile that was as
bright as the sun. Born in Japan, she and her seven sisters were
raised solely by their mother. When we met, she was in third grade.
I was her yoga teacher. Alicia struggled with her math homework,
hated science and history and had difficulty communicating. English
was not her first language, and others thought of Alicia as shy
and withdrawn, a loner. Yet, I could see that she wanted to communicate.
It took about three months for us to become comfortable with each
other; some days she would stay after class to talk about creativity
and to show me her own yoga poses. Over time, I saw a shy little
girl start to embrace her own individuality. She started to label
qualities she previously viewed in herself as “faults” as “unique.”
Alicia turned out not only to be a great student, but also a great
teacher. She taught her poses to the other children, all of whom
admired her for her creativity and dedication. The changes spread.
Alicia’s grades began to improve, she raised her hand more in
class, and she spoke up when she did not understand something.
She found ways to use the arts to understand academics — creating
dance rhythms to learn addition and solve mathematical problems
and yoga poses to depict historic events and people. Alicia taught
me the invaluable lesson of how expression through the arts can
profoundly change a youth’s sense of self and relation to formal
Vanessa: She was a high school sophomore, on probation because
of low grades, and raising her own child. She took a dance class
for “easy credit.” But then she fell in love with dance. She brought
her little girl to the classes and stayed after class to learn
and perfect techniques. As her love of dance blossomed, her grades
started to improve and she felt more confident asking for extra
help when she needed it. In her junior year, Vanessa started to
talk about college, a word that was not even part of her vocabulary
a year earlier. We came up with a plan: to apply to the dance
department at New York University. Together we wrote essays and
choreographed audition pieces. Not only did Vanessa gain acceptance
to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts but she received
a partial scholarship as well. Vanessa’s passion and persistence
were born out of a love of dance but now underlie a broad and
firm personal and academic base.
Sister Ona Bessette has written about “Dance as Healing Prayer,”
— “an invitation for a greater integration of the body and spirit
in a moment of communication with the source of life and love…a
medium of reflection that opens the soul to insight and strength.”
Particularly for troubled youth, we should remember the lessons
that Alicia and Vanessa teach of the power of art and movement
to lead a child back to the classroom as a reinvigorated learner.
Mentoring USA is reaching out to children early to prevent school
dropout with an effective intervention strategy and one-on-one
relationships. Resources such as books and art activities are
valuable; however, what really matters to a child is the human
touch of caring. This is irreplaceable and invaluable to any child.#
Cuomo is the Founder and Chairperson of Mentoring USA. Jennifer
Ward is a Program Manager at Mentoring USA. Previously, she was
Dean of Dance at a public high school.
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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