Faubourg Theatre & Keeneyville School District
partner to promote
Literacy through the Arts
In 2013, Watmora Casey took some time to reflect on his achievements as Artistic Director of Faubourg School of Ballet. The list was impressive. He had students in many of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies, he was awarded Youth America Grand Prix’s Teacher of the Year Award, and his school was producing a steady stream of prodigious dance artists. Despite these accomplishments, he felt a key component of his life’s calling was not yet in place.
Faubourg School of Ballet is located in a community that has its challenges. Many of the residents are low income and key programs, including the schools, are under-resourced. Mr. Casey wanted to give back and help lift up that community, knowing from experience that the arts can be a great agent for change and a key component of learning beyond the stage and studio. “I’ve seen how the arts can change individuals, giving them both an outlet for expression, as well as discipline and structure. I knew we needed to build a bridge between the arts and our community,” mused Mr. Casey.
The program gets off the ground
The momentum for his idea took hold while in the studio talking about it with ballet mother and educator, Laura Mudd. She expressed her support for the idea and offered to write up an after-school, ballet class proposal for the principal and social worker, to be taught by Mr. Casey, as a way to engage the most disengaged students. Despite the fact that the school offered no after school programming or clubs at that time, the proposal was not immediately embraced.
It was then that Mr. Casey and Ms. Laura, as the children refer to them, knew they needed support from the community and decided to bring their idea to Mayor Rodney Craig of Hanover Park. With his support and connections, Mr. Casey and Ms. Laura entered into numerous meetings with the school principals, social workers, and the school district superintendent. After months of persistence, Faubourg Theatre gained support from Keeneyville District 20 to pilot an after-school program and Ballet for Beginners was born.
Since that first year, the Ballet for Beginner’s pilot has evolved into Faubourg Theatre’s Literacy through the Arts after-school and summer programs. Mr. Casey and Ms. Laura remember the question becoming, how can we integrate the arts with education to become a positive force for the youth surrounding us?” The program’s purpose to engage students who struggle in school and/or at home through literacy and the arts strengthened to include three foundational objectives to:
- Improve reading comprehension and math concepts through project-based learning.
- Increase parent and family engagement.
- Heighten social-emotional awareness and connection.
Faubourg Theatre’s partnership has evolved into year-round, quality after-school programming during the school year and an expanded, full-day, 6-week summer enrichment program. Each day includes literacy, math, and music/movement projects. Meals are provided. The program is offered on a sliding scale basis, with the understanding that the parent or guardian must actively participate, as required, by reading or telling stories to their child each day, attending field trips, a dance performance, and volunteering on select dates. Each summer session ends with a culminating festival and student performance in the park, open to the public.
Each day is staffed by school teachers and other academic professionals along with guest artists and volunteers. “One of the things I’m most proud of is when our ballet students volunteer to help, reading to students and working with them on math and literacy projects. They are already learning to give back,” acknowledges Mr. Casey. “It’s as rewarding for them as it is for the children in the program.”
Literacy Through the Arts Shows Promise
Many students, especially those from low-income families, often experience a “summer slide,” meaning they lose some of the achievement gains made during the previous school year. But nearly all of the students who participate in Faubourg Theatre’s program either improve or maintain their reading levels after the summer months.
Mr. Casey and Ms. Laura are encouraged with the students’ academic engagement and subsequent improvements in reading comprehension, but also by the level of family participation. As well they should be, given the fact that 100 percent of the families in the program participated in at least one of the family events in 2017.
Ninety-four percent of students attended consistently throughout last summer, and their behavior and attitude toward themselves and others improved in positive ways.
A parent in the program affirmed, “My child believes in herself. Since my daughter has been in the program, her confidence and willingness to participate has soared. She’s like a different child.”
Additionally, Dr. Michael Connolly, Keeneyville School District Superintendent vouched, “I saw kids who may not have been as successful in our classrooms or maybe have had some behavior issues that really loved being there and were able to harness energy in a positive way. I also saw kids that were ones you may not have noticed before, ones that typically hung out in the background, build confidence. They were taking on leadership roles. They were transforming themselves into people you were going to notice.”
Mayor Craig also affirmed, “The feedback I’ve been getting has been all positive. I’m celebrating that fact and I’m so pleased to be able to speak to it.”
With a proven track record of success, Keeneyville School District is expanding the program to 7th and 8th graders. “We want to see the arts take a leading role in giving kids a constructive outlet for expression, but also connect that positive experience to learning in the classroom” Casey confirmed.
Overcoming Program Challenges
Although there is district and community support, the program faces ongoing funding challenges including funding for instructors, administrators, program development and trainings. Funding quality administrative and program development staff are essential components for growth and sustainability. Ensuring the instructors are trained to successfully deal with the associated behaviors that inevitably come with kids from difficult life situations is imperative to the program’s success.
To that end, Ms. Mudd, who works as a Professional Development Facilitator with Erikson Institute’s Language and Literacy Partners, weaves her expertise into the Literacy through the Arts programming. She facilitates professional development and teacher coaching around the balanced literacy components with District 20 teachers. The hired district teachers collaborate with teaching artists to design a project-based curriculum, integrating literacy and the arts, for an engaging summer empowerment project.
The most pressing challenge, however, is funding. While some funding comes from local sources, securing larger grants to sustain the programming has proven difficult. Faubourg Theatre is taking the funding challenge to the community. Fortunately, an anonymous donor has offered a matching grant of up to $15,000. This means for every dollar donated between now and May, it will be matched up to $15,000.
“We are asking all corners of the community to support The Literacy through the Arts Program to support some of the most academically, socially and emotionally challenged children and families in this community. Although there have been some financial contributions from local banks, churches, and businesses, the program needs more to grow and sustain itself,” emphasizes Ms. Laura. “Please consider a donation from your corner of the community, whether it be a business, an organization or a club, to support the quality programming offered for students who need it most!”
Click here for information about the program.
Additionally, for inquiries or to donate, contact Laura Mudd at firstname.lastname@example.org or donate through the Faubourg Theatre Facebook page by clicking the button below.