I am pleased to report that I attended the “conference” of our Building Community Through The Arts program (BCTA) on Wednesday this week in Orono. It was an extraordinary experience. This is a program with which every one of us should be proud and excited to be involved. In case you aren’t familiar with it, BCTA was designed by Susan Potters in the wake of the Columbine tragedy as a way to engage ALL students in a classroom in a creative process (theater or dance) of their own design. Not only is this often the very first-ever exposure to the performing arts for most of these students–more importantly, the collective creative process breaks down the social barriers, isolation, cliques, and disengagement that can lead to bullying, truancy, and other negative behaviors. On Wednesday the “conference” consisted of four different classes (two each from Bangor HS and Brewer HS) performing their works for each other, then sharing feedback and ideas, and ending with an improvised piece where they all worked together. (I missed this last section due to obligations that afternoon back in the southern part of the state).
I was fortunate to have my video camera with me and I was able to interview most of the four teachers whose classes were participating. Invariably, in response to my question of why they would take two full weeks of class instruction time to put their students through this experience in the performing arts, they replied that the investment pays off many times over! Students become engaged, and the social atmosphere of the classroom dramatically improves, facilitating a better teaching and learning environment. One teacher told me that some of her students were previously routinely skipping classes and whole days at school, but are now perfect in their attendance and completely engaged in learning. Another teacher told me that she is able to utilize the process all year long, getting her students to “act out” or “dance out” something they are studying, thus reinforcing the intellectual learning experience with a very tactile one that gets everyone working together. I also interviewed some students on camera, and they expressed tremendous enthusiasm. These kids were ALIVE, and they universally agreed that the program had helped them connect meaningfully with all the other students in their class. “We’re not necessarily best friends,” said one, “But we all get along now, and no one is left out.” In my estimation, this is the very definition of a successful program!
In the next week or two I will be editing the video clips into a short (you tube style) presentation that we will use for outreach. This program, which had been discontinued just before I took my current position at MAAE, is one of the best things I have ever seen, and it is my firm desire to see it expanded state-wide. If the video comes even close to capturing the enthusiasm and excitement experienced by the participants it should be a very powerful tool–but what I’d REALLY like to do is have you attend a future conference so you can see for yourself. If we could get some of our foundation friends to witness this program in person, I don’t think we would have any trouble finding the funding to take it statewide. EVERY student in Maine should have the opportunity to participate at least once, and with your help we can make this happen!