New Year, New Potential

Four K–12 instructors share fresh ideas for class.

Kelli Brown teaching at the Idaho Arts Charter School in Nampa, Idaho

This time of year, even the most seasoned dance educators take the opportunity to refresh their approach and incorporate new ideas in the classroom. “We need to work on curriculum constantly, to infuse it with growth and freshness,” says Shana Habel, who oversees the elementary curriculum for the Los Angeles Unified School District. “There are so many ways to approach each concept—always something to play with, something to find. I think that’s why I’m still in it.”

Andrew Jannetti

With more than 30 years of teaching under his belt, this is Jannetti’s second year teaching grades K–5 at PS 79 in New York City.

Andrew Jannetti plans to put ideas from his recently completed graduate thesis on integrated curriculum into practice. He’ll take concepts from academic classes and give them a kinesthetic spin. “One of my goals is to reach all the students, and to get the kinesthetic learners engaged in the material,” Jannetti says. “I want to give them a more total learning experience.”

For example, his third-grade movement classes will complement their academic study of fairy tales. “First, we’ll talk about the essence of a fairy tale: a journey,” he says. “You leave somewhere, you encounter obstacles along the way and you overcome the obstacles, usually with some positive outcome and a moral to the story.”

From there, each student will design her own journey, first as a map drawn on paper, then with her body in the space. Jannetti will introduce pathways (straight, zigzag, spiral, etc.), having each student choose a beginning position, direction of movement and pathway type. The student will perform a locomotor activity (such as skipping through a jungle or walking across a desert) along the pathway until she reaches an obstacle to overcome; perhaps an ogre to wrestle or a mountain to climb. Then she’ll repeat the process, mapping and performing another pathway and obstacle until she reaches the culmination of her fairy tale.

Activities like these can transform a student’s perception of a story or text that otherwise seems two-dimensional. “It becomes very visual for some students,” says Jannetti. “It influences the way they write and how they can express themselves.”

Katy Dallas

Dallas is starting her eighth year at Crayton Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina, teaching grades 6–8.

This year, Katy Dallas’ school district will devote a full unit to hip hop, instead of fitting it into other units as they have in the past. “When all the middle schools met earlier this year to rewrite our curriculum and placement guides, we found ourselves with an extra month or so in the year,” she says. “So I suggested, ‘Why don’t we accept that hip hop is the reality and just go for it?’”

All the middle schools agreed, and this winter Dallas, who is the new lead teacher for dance in her district, will bring in hip-hop dancers to help prepare teachers to give students the most thorough and accurate representation possible.

“I want to connect with my students and the things they feel are more ‘now’ and ‘hip,’” she says. “And I think it will challenge their ideas of what hip hop is, as well. Most of my students think that it’s just whatever they saw on a music video or the type of dancing they do at school dances. They really don’t understand the history and all the different pieces of what hip hop actually is.”

Kelli Brown

Brown has been a teacher in public schools for 19 years. This will be her seventh year of teaching grades 6–12 at Idaho Arts Charter School in Nampa, Idaho.

Though Kelli Brown has incorporated yoga elements into her classes for several years, this year she will earn a new certification in children’s yoga from the Yoga Alliance. “We’re learning about child development: which poses are appropriate for students of various ages and levels and a few specific relaxation techniques geared for children,” she says.

“Kids have insane schedules, and they don’t always have the tools to be able to deal with that,” she says. “There are some really simple meditations that children can do, like counting with their breath, visualization, and tightening and relaxing body parts. Once you teach them, they can use those tools anywhere.”

Shana Habel

After 16 years of teaching K–12 dance, Habel has spent the last six supervising K–12 dance programming in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Shana Habel is looking forward to bringing her district together through a unified-theme-based project. This year, she’s planning a tribute to José Limón, who attended school in her district.

For the project, each participating school will take Limón’s There is a Time and explore it at different levels from kindergarten to 12th grade. “For example, our fourth grade works on understanding how to create phrases around an idea. We’ll take the text of Ecclesiastes (‘There is a time to weep,’ etc.) and have students create movement phrases around those concepts,” she says.

Last year, the district included elementary and middle school students in a dance festival previously held only for secondary students, and she saw the benefits of a multigenerational showcase firsthand. “I’ve found that one of the most beautiful things is when high school students get an opportunity to interact with middle and elementary schools,” she says, “especially when they have a topic in common that unites them.” DT

Ashley Rivers is a dancer and writer in Boston and a Calderwood Fellow in writing at Emerson  College.


by Riley Mullins, courtesy of Kelli Brown


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