With its new Generation Next Education Initiative, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is expanding their educational reach, a key component of its mission. The initiative brings students to the Tobin for special programming, takes artists out into schools for face-to-face engagement, and will soon be working on a transformational curriculum to be implemented with North East Independent School District.
Education initiatives have always been part of the Tobin’s master plan. After the center opened in 2014, their first objective was to figure out how to best utilize the space in order to best serve the community and facilitate incoming artists, according to Kendall Purpura, vice president of education and development at the Tobin Center.
“Then we could really begin shaping and forming our program,” Purpura said.
Their goal was to find a niche that was currently unfilled in districts where arts funding has been drastically reduced, and programming has, in many cases, disappeared. Purpura met with many local ISD administrators, and has been able to find the right fit for most.
Many schools have taken advantage of the student matinée program. During the Tobin Center’s 2014-15 season, around 50,000 students attended the performances on school field trips. They hired an education coordinator, Sarah Saenz, to add value to the visits. Saenz works with the artists to develop a face-to-face component before or after the performance, giving students the chance to interact with the artists. These encounters are the most rewarding for students and artists alike.
“It really revives the artists, and makes them more excited to share their work,” said Saenz.
So far through these extended visits 950 students have enjoyed off-stage interactions with the artists.
The program is also open to non-ISD schools and programs as well. One hundred students from dance schools on the Southside enjoyed an open rehearsal with Ballet Folklorico, and St. Mary’s Hall contemporary dance classes received a Master Class with Teddy Forance of Shaping Sound.
Purpura soon realized that the cost and logistical hurdles field trips pose for school districts, and decided to push the program further by taking visiting artists into the schools.
“When artists are here I want them to use every ounce of their energy and every minute of their time working for San Antonio,” Purpura said.
Once again, while it may not be as relaxing as sipping margaritas on the River Walk, school visits have proved rewarding for both artists and students.
When Mariachi Aztlan came to town with Vikki Carr, Saenz and Purpura arranged for them to visit the mariachi bands at Edison High School, Burbank High School, and Brackenridge High School. The Brackenridge mariachis even performed for the group and received a professional critique.
The third and most ambitious piece of the initiative will take arts beyond individual performances. Through a partnership with NEISD and the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education Program, the Tobin Center will help teachers bring art into their classrooms to help engage and inspire students in their core subjects. Studies show that music, rhythm, story, color, and other artistic principles can help students absorb information and often make them more excited about learning.
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Purpura hopes to see the Partners in Education Program spread throughout the city. NEISD’s opportunity to help develop and pilot the program is largely due to the insight of Pauline Dow, NEISD associate superintendent for instruction and technology services and chief instructional officer.
“NEISD was the first one to say, ‘Let us be the pilot program,’” Purpura said.
Arts integration has been a goal in NEISD for the last six to seven years, according to Diana Schumacher, the district’s director of fine arts.
Dow is new to the district, and she brought big ideas with her from her time as chief academic officer for Austin ISD. After participating in the Kennedy Center program with Austin arts organization MINDPOP, she saw the benefits of changing the way content is delivered to students. It wasn’t just about having the arts presented as separate disciplines, but incorporating them across all content for students with creative learning styles.
“We need to get creative in our methods of delivery, because this generation of students isn’t moving into a world that is as traditional. They need to be creative thinkers,” said Schumacher.
In addition to teachers trained in fine arts integration, Schumacher also hopes to see local artists brought into the classroom for collaborative teaching efforts.
The approach is similar to that of Wolftrap, a Virginia-based integrated arts organization that facilitates six-week artist residencies in early education classrooms. They recently announced that ArtsFund will become a Wolftrap affiliate, bringing the program to Pre-K 4 SA at full scale, after two years of summer workshops at the centers.
Schumacher would like to see this level of integration reaching into the elementary grades. That is the goal to of the partnership with the Tobin. District officials and Purpura will be traveling to Washington D.C. in April for an introduction to Partners in Education. From there, they will craft a plan for NEISD and the rest of San Antonio.
“It’s great for NEISD, but I hope it’s something all the school districts in this county will want to take part in.”
Meanwhile, the Tobin plans to keep using their resources to help kids connect arts and learning from every angle.
Saenz is also excited about an upcoming technical theater training opportunity for high school students. The Tobin will pilot the program with Brackenridge later this year. Brackenridge has a strong video and television production program in place, and adding technical theater to their offerings will help students think creatively about how their education might apply to fields that excite and inspire them.
Top image: Deke Sharon masterclass in the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater with choir students from MacArthur and Madison High School. Courtesy Photo.