DOVER — “We all know the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and here at William Henry we really believe that it takes a community to put on a musical,” said Lisa Burnham, co-director of the second annual William Henry Middle School Night of the Arts, an initiative to incorporate the arts into school curriculum.
As education continues to focus heavily on the STEM pathways of science, technology, engineering and math, teachers and administrators at William Henry Middle School noticed a lack of opportunity for the arts to make an appearance.
“We all met and agreed that our students needed an avenue to apply the critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration skills they learned during the school day,” said Mrs. Burnham.
She later introduced research on the relatively new education term, STEAM.
The STEAM method includes all of the previous elements of STEM, but also includes the arts and encourages students to use creativity in their education.
Four clubs came together to produce the William Henry Middle School Night of the Arts Thursday: the Set Design and Construction, the Art Prop/Costume Design, the Musical/Drama and the Rising Stars Dance clubs
“We’ve been working hard since October,” said Angela DePrima, an adviser for the Art Prop/Costume Design club. “ really had to bring their math skills, science skills and geometry skills to make the costumes and some of the stuff on stage.”
William Henry’s Night of the Arts featured multiple performance, including a rendition of Disney’s “The Jungle Book Kids,” allowing students to both design and perform the play. However, the after-school program benefited the students in ways other than improving their art, science and math skills.
Scott Gottfried, father of Rachel Gottfried, who helped play Kaa the Snake, realized how it helped his daughter become more outgoing.
“It brought her out of being shy. She used to be really quiet, and this has given her a voice,” he said.
Other families shared the same sentiments about the program.
“They love this,” said Marie Lewandowski, grandmother of Allison Salter, Emma Salter and Brent Leary, all of whom were in the show. “It’s helping keep their grades up and it’s all about giving them confidence.”
Lurlee Black-Bryant, associate principal of the school on Carver Road, also touched on the benefits of fostering an after-school program.
“According to a variety of research, students who participate in after-school activities have reported a greater connection to school through higher daily attendance rates, overall better behavior, are more likely to have aspirations to graduate high school and attend college,” she said.
Members of the community also joined in the collaborative effort to encourage the arts.
Marina and Jim Rogin, founders of The Children’s Theatre Inc. of Kent County, are known as a “power couple” in the Dover area arts community. After hearing about the work the students were doing at William Henry Middle School, they offered to support the cause by covering 40 percent of the program’s $5,000 budget.
“Their mutual love of theater and the impact it can have on young people’s lives is contagious,” said Mrs. Wood.
From the set design to the choreography, more than 90 students from fifth- and sixth-grade worked together to put on their Night of the Arts. The event began with a pre-show, featuring a variety of acts including performances by the Rising Stars Dance Club, choral productions by the Musical Ensemble and a solo of Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Julianna Brenner.
“This really helps us overcome our stage fright and become who we are,” said Emma Salter.
RJ Chandler, cast as Shere Khan, echoed Emma. “The most rewarding thing for me was to just walk on the stage.”
When it was time for the main event, the students’ performance was met with thunderous applause from family, friends and fellow classmates who filled the auditorium.
“They did all of the work, and that’s what I’m really proud of,” said Mrs. Burnham. “Everyone came together at the end.”
Mrs. Burnham hopes love for the arts spreads to other schools and students. She pointed out there is no school in Kent County that has a pathway strictly dedicated to the arts.
“There’s Cab Calloway in Wilmington, but should you have to drive an hour away just because your child wants to do the arts?” she asked.
In addition to Cab Calloway School of the Arts in New Castle County, the Sussex Academy of the Arts and Sciences serves Sussex County students. Cab is in the Red Clay Consolidated School District and Sussex Academy is a charter school in Georgetown.
Currently, the Capital School District Board is in favor of creating an arts pathway in the future.
“As we continue to strive towards higher academic standards we can’t just sit by and let the arts get lost in the shuffle,” said William Henry Principal Toriano Giddens.
“For us this is something we make a priority. Arts are critically important.”
To advance their support of the arts, Mrs. Burnham and Mrs. Wood look to the future and working with younger students in the arts, saying that they will be back next year with another musical.
“My line is, academics feed the brain, but the arts, they feed our soul,” said Mrs. Wood. “That is why we are here tonight.”