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Collaboration Enhances Arts Education in Springfield's K-8 Classrooms

Springfield Public Schools, The Kennedy Center, and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, bring The Arts to kids, and kids to The Arts
Romeo and Juliet at MSU's Coger Theater
Romeo and Juliet at MSU's Coger Theater/Photo Credit: Mike Smith

Sound:  School buses unloading passengers….It’s the Friday before Thanksgiving.  A little after 9am, in front of Missouri State University’s Craig Hall, an incoming parade of buses is lining up for the choreographed off-loading of about 450 8th graders, plus teachers and administrators from Springfield’s Jarrett, Pipkin, Study, and Westport Middle Schools.  These students, and another 500 or so this afternoon, will see a MSU Dept. of Theater and Dance production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  The opportunity to transport 1000 Springfield 8th graders to and from Shakespeare today comes through a collaboration between Springfield Public Schools, The Kennedy Center, and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.  The program is called Any Given Child, and it’s designed to enhance arts education in Springfield’s K-8 classrooms. 

Darrell Ayres is Vice President for Education and Jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington D.C.  “We were very fortunate to have Springfield apply for the program, and of course we’ve had a relationship with Springfield for a number of years because of the work we’ve done with Hammons Hall through the Partners in Education Program.”

Ayres says Springfield was the 2nd of what is now 14 cities participating   in Any Giving Child.  “ When we started Any Given Child, the original concept was How could we help communities leverage existing resources, and one of the things is we are mandated by Federal Law to work across the United States.  One of the Kennedy Center’s missions is to be a resource to the nation in the area of arts education.  But one of the challenges is we can’t be in every single community in the U.S., that would be impossible.  But what we can do, is find communities who reflect certain demographics  to serve as examples for other people on how they can work on insuring that every child K-8, from no matter what economic background they came from, had the arts as part of their educational lives.  And when we looked at Springfield, it was quite a remarkable mix of Universities, of cultural organizations.”

Enter, The Community Foundation of the Ozarks and its Sr. Program Officer Randy Russell:  “Our job in this program, is to make sure any given child has the same opportunities, and to find ways we can connect to the community to bring services and programming to the children of our schools that help enrich their education through arts presentations.” Russell says these opportunities of enhancing arts education in an out of the classroom are tied to curriculum whenever possible, and:  “The part that makes it the most impactful is these things can cross over from curricular area, to a different curricular area.”  For example, Any given Child allows for Springfield Regional Opera performances of The Three Little Pigs, for Springfield 1st graders.  2nd grade classes are introduced to dance forms by the Springfield Ballet.  4th graders read The Little Mermaid in class, and through Any Given Child, get to see it performed live by Springfield Little Theater.  “Things students may view when they go to the Springfield Art Museum in the 5th grade, they will see in their history books in another grade level down the road.  Those connections are the ones we hope to build through Any Given Child, and you do that best by having the chance for the kids to experience these things.”  

In April, Any Given Child will bring half of the city’s 8th graders, a thousand students, to MSU to see The Pirates of Penzance.  The other half, Randy Russell reminds us, was at MSU’s Coger Theater November 22nd to see Romeo and Juliet:  “Students in Springfield Public Schools read Romeo and Juliet as part of their 9th grade curriculum.  So the 8th graders in our schools, half of them will have gone this Fall to see Romeo and Juliet.   Students saw sections they were engaged and familiar with.  Broad Sword fighting, (SOUND OF SWORD FIGHT) the Death Scene, the Balcony Scene. (SOUND OF JULIET:  Romeo, Romeo, Where for Art Thou, Romeo.)     

Julie Johnson teaches 8th Grade at Springfield’s Pipkin Middle School:  “Romeo and Juliet is always the classic story.  Plus there’s the added bonus that they’ll be reading Romeo and Juliet next year in Freshman English, and this helps them get background ahead of time.”  As did the actors and directors informatory remarks before each of the 3 scenes presented to the classes.  Julie Johnson says her 8th grade students appreciated the Q&A session at the end.  “Seeing the live theater really draws them in.  Many of them said they’ve never been to a real theater other than the auditorium at school.  They were really excited.  Any chance to see something like this, they are always pumped.” 

(PIPKIN STUDENTS REACT)  April Powell says “It was really good.  I liked the beginning of it, it was really funny.”  Bailey Carmichael tells KSMU, “It was pretty cool, I thought it was fun.  It would’ve been better if we had seen more of it because we only saw 3 scenes but I liked it”.  Austin McClary enjoyed  a couple of aspects about the production: “Yea, I thought it was pretty cool.  It teaches us how productions work, and I thought the costume design was cool.”    

Darrell Ayres of the Kennedy Center sees the Springfield AGC program as a model for the nation.  “What we’re hoping is that these communities that are part of the Any Given Child  program, can be examples for others across the U.S., but one of the things that really stands out in Springfield has been the work of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. And I wish there was a way to replicate, not adapt, but replicate the support CFO has provided to Springfield.” 

Support for Any given Child in Springfield Public Schools comes in part from Community Foundation of the Ozarks Arts Education Endowment partners, and CFO Arts and Culture grants for Springfield Regional Arts Council projects. 

For information about Any Given Child or the Community Foundation of the Ozarks:  cfozarks.org

For KSMU and Making A Difference Where You Live, I’m Mike Smith.