In Class 1, Art Saves the World

Populating planets. Building monuments. Fashioning musical instruments. Moving with a mission. Recently, Class 1 students explored these creative activities during a vibrant, cross-curricular unit that linked visual arts, drama, music and dance. With an emphasis on sustainability, equity and innovation, this multi-faceted undertaking also sought to deepen the Class 1 Social Studies curriculum.

“This project provided an opportunity for Arts and Homeroom teachers to collaborate on creating a unique arts integration experience,” explained Sarah Bellantoni, the Lower School Arts Integrator and Drama teacher. 

As such, the three sections of Class 1 rotated in groups to four designated locations: the Lower School art and music rooms, the Dance Studio and the Black Box Theater. In each spot, the arts team – Art teacher Lauren McCarty, Music teacher Eddie Wiernik, Dance teacher Susan Strong and Ms. Bellantoni – led their specific workshops with assistance from the Homeroom teachers. Every area buzzed with excitement and energy.

In the Drama workshop, entitled “Space Explorers,” the students imagined they were astronauts whose assignment was to establish a thriving community on a new planet. Sporting red, white and blue NASA badges, the young astronauts focused on four important areas necessary for their environment to survive: food, shelter, water and safety.

With large sheets of white paper and a colorful assortment of markers, groups of students designated by “survival areas” sprawled out in the Black Box Theater and drew their elaborate plans. At the end of the period, each group came together to share. “We made pipes for every house,” said a student working on water. “The pipes filter water to make it cleaner,” she added.

One flight down in the Lower School Art room, the focus was on “Monuments and Memorials in Our Community.” Inspired by the work of Chapin’s International Week artist in residence, Leslie Jimenez, and Korean artist, Do Ho Suh, these Class 1 artists learned about the significance of public art and studied a compelling example, the Theodore Roosevelt memorial outside of the American Museum of Natural History.

Soon after, the students began working in pairs to identify ideas for their own meaningful monuments. Guided by the brainstormed words “courageous,” “strong,” “brave” and “inspired” and questions such as “How can we make a monument for everyone?” they started sketching their thoughts on scraps of paper. Next, using materials like clay, foil and popsicle sticks, they built three-dimensional models of monuments they wanted to see in the world.

Entering the Dance Studio, other students found seats on the floor as a lively discussion about sustainability got underway. “What can we do with a seed?” Ms. Strong asked. Many hands went up. “We can plant food,” one suggested. “Maybe we could tell other people how to grow things,” offered a second. Fortified with ideas, the students eagerly participated in a workshop, called “Be the Change,” which addresses what actions concerned citizens might take to combat threats to our planet.

With four stations set up around the studio— energy/nature, air, transportation and food—the students interpreted both the threats and the positive change they could make through original choreography. With feet pedaling, arms waving and an abundance of spirited jumping and skipping, the students, collaborating in groups of three or four, expressed planet-saving concepts such as solar energy, outdoor exercise, rooftop gardens and litter collection.

Upstairs in the Lower School Music room, a workshop titled “March of the Recyclables” centered on families of musical instruments and, by extension, the ways in which musical families mirrored the students’ own families in that they both form distinct communities. After an animated conversation about instruments, these students got to work creating their own guitars, harmonicas, xylophones and drums out of a robust collection of recycled materials.

Thus, a re-purposed cereal box, strands of string, push pins and pieces of cardboard transformed into a guitar. A pair of wooden sticks, rubber bands and tape turned into a kazoo. Coffee cups of graduated sizes, topped with bright-yellow latex remnants, became a set of bongo drums. Needless to say, the talented musicians were delighted with their invented masterpieces — and treated their teachers (and a few visitors) to an impromptu performance. 

The Arts certainly came alive during this exhilarating, sustainability-focused project. With the help of the artists, musicians, dancers and actors in Class 1, we should feel some relief in the fact that the future of our imperiled planet is in capable and creative hands.

Browse photos from the project below: