This story was updated on May 12, 2022 at 1:46 p.m.
BROCKTON — A group of kindergartners at the Mary E. Baker Elementary School sat on a large, navy blue rug, eagerly waiting for Catherine Piazza to hand them a brightly colored, egg-shaped shaker.
As she waded through the pond of young students, Piazza reached into a bag and pulled out the small musical instruments, passing them out one by one.
Piazza made her way back to the front of the classroom and started the music — a folk song from Ghana sung in the language of Akan. As the music played, some students shook their shakers as hard and as fast as they could, while others shook them slowly to the beat of the music.
Piazza visited the class as part of ImagineARTS, a program created by the South Shore Conservatory to bring arts, music and dance education to kindergarten classrooms across Brockton every week.
“It is a 45-minute lesson that is just, from start to finish, completely arts-infused,” said Holly Jennings, the director of the program.
The program began 10 years ago as a way to mix the arts with each school’s literacy and academic goals.
The goal of this lesson was to encourage improvisation and creativity while exposing the children to music from different cultures. Earlier in the class, the students listened to a song called “Mbube,” which means “lion” in Zulu, while they clanked wooden sticks together to the music’s steady beat.
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Each ImagineARTS lesson is tailored to what the class is learning at that time. In this classroom, the students are learning about rhyming and animals, so the whole ImagineARTS lesson today is centered around those topics.
Every week between October and May, a staff member from South Shore Conservatory comes to the classroom and provides a unique lesson incorporating their own artistic expertise. Piazza is the co-chair of the dance department at the conservatory, so she uses dance and movement throughout her lesson.
At the start of the class, Piazza led the students through a dance to a Swahili song called Funga Alafia. One of the moves involved pushing their arms up and across their bodies, which Jennings said is an important motion for children that age to understand and practice for their physical and motor development.
The class isn’t just any typical music or art class. On top of those typical arts classes, teachers incorporate activities from ImagineARTS lessons while teaching regular subjects like science or math.
“We’re focusing on expanding their teaching toolbox so that they can use the arts across their kindergarten curriculum,” Jennings said.
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By combining arts with academics, Jennings said it reaches students that might learn differently or struggle in a regular classroom setting. Many students they work with speak English as a second language, and the lessons are still easy for them to follow.
“You don’t need to understand English to understand shaking an egg shaker or playing the rhythm sticks,” she said.
According to a study conducted by the conservatory, the ImagineARTS lessons see 10% more student engagement than teachers see throughout the rest of the school day. Even during the pandemic, when ImagineARTS continued with the schools virtually, students were more engaged compared to a typical day.
“Consistently, we were hearing from teachers that attendance was better on days that there was ImagineARTS,” Jennings said.
The program is free to the schools that participate and is fully funded from donations from Massachusetts Cultural Council, Brockton Cultural Council, United Way of Greater Plymouth County and other organizati
On some days, visiting musicians from South Shore Conservatory’s faculty will bring their instruments to the class, exposing the students to unique types of music and sounds.
“At the kindergarten level, students are getting to see and experience instruments like the bassoon or percussion instruments outside of just a drum kit,” Jennings said. “I am a classically trained musician…and I did not see a bassoon until I got to college. And these kids are getting to see it in kindergarten.”
This school year marks the program’s tenth anniversary. Jennings has been with the program since it began, first as a teacher in the class like Piazza before moving into the director role.
The program even holds family nights, where parents can come to the school after hours and experience an ImagineARTS lesson with their kids, then they can take those activities and incorporate them at home.
“We’ve also really committed in the past few years to making sure that the students that we work with can see themselves represented in the story content that we bring into the classroom,” Jennings said. “Really making sure that we’re taking a global approach to the music and the arts content that we’re bringing into our lessons.”
Back in the classroom, Piazza packs up the little instruments into her bag while the students sing the chorus of “Nah, Nah, Hey, Hey” by Donna Summer: the weekly goodbye song. The teacher rallies the kids back to their seat so they can get ready for lunch.
“These students are having a richer, fuller human experience having been exposed to so much of the arts at the level that they’re getting,” Jennings said. “That is just enriching their lives in such a huge way.”
This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Brockton ImagineARTS: Program teaches kindergartners music, dance, art