Local artists and Regina Catholic Schools worked together to provide diverse dance and music programming.
3 min read

Some teachers consider the arts to be just an extension of education, an enrichment for students. Sophia Yannitsos wants to change that. The Regina Catholic Schools Arts Education Consultant says, “The arts are a way of knowing through teaching.” She recently collaborated with local artists to provide diverse dance and music programming to Kindergarten students at St. Kateri Tekakwitha School in Regina, with the goal of supporting literacy outcomes.

The school has a large number of English as an Additional Language students. “Self-expression through dance and music transfers to their vocabulary development,” says Yannitsos. “Students learned literacy outcomes, but instead of through books, they did this through kinesthetic awareness and music, alongside story.”

The innovative pilot program was funded through an Artists in Schools grant. There were five modules with lead artist Chancz Perry: a cultural awareness and sensitivity workshop for teachers; creative dance, featuring Regina Symphony Orchestra violinist Katie Gannon; First Nations hoop dance with Terrance Littletent; Ghanaian dance and drumming with Godknows Kummasah; and international Orff Pedagogy barred instruments, such as the xylophone, with Yannitsos. Perry says, “We’re not teaching students to be actors or singers or dancers or hoop dancers, but we’re using art forms as a vehicle for physical expression, for building social relationships, for gaining knowledge and understandings.”

In addition to learning about dance and music, students were exposed to cultures and customs from around the world. For example, each of the hoops involved in Littletent’s dance has a traditional Indigenous teaching associated with it. Teacher Michelle Dizy says, “Since I am not First Nations, I often struggle to find the best ways to teach my students about First Nations culture. I learned as much as my students did during this project. I wish that every class that I teach would have the opportunity for such deep learning.”

Students were completely engaged and built confidence over the course of the program. One says, “I was nervous about dancing with five hoops. I didn’t think I could do it. But, look, I can use all the hoops!” Teacher Monique Wahl was amazed at how the programming made a lasting impression on the students. “The kids kept bringing up Terrance’s five teachings for weeks. They were bringing those things back into the classroom and taking the knowledge they learned in the project into their everyday lives.”

Dizy adds, “The learning that occurred during this project cannot be mandated by curriculum or planned in a long-range plan. This is learning that happens through the magic of music and dance. This is learning that touches the soul and changes a child. This is the difference that art makes.” She goes on to say, “When a child says, ‘Dancing the Gahu dance makes me feel brave,’ when something like that happens, it’s magical.”

Yannitsos plans to use the project as a stepping stone to something larger. Next year, she is creating a music and dance program with two artists that all Regina Catholic Schools can access. “We don’t have the funding to do amazing projects like this if the Arts Board didn’t exist. I wouldn’t be able to free up $10,000 to bring in artists like this to bring this change.”

Artists in Schools is a Saskatchewan Arts Board program supported by funding from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, SaskCulture Inc. through the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation, and the Government of Saskatchewan through the Ministry of Education.

Video

Photos: 

Top: Hoop dancing with Terrance Littletent

Middle: Ghanaian drumming with Godknows Kummasah

Middle: Dancing the globe with Chancz Perry

Bottom: Orff pedagogy with Sophia Yannitsos

Photos courtesy of Regina Catholic Schools