At Uncommon Schools’ North Star Academy and Camden Prep, students study English, math and other subjects on their way to college. The charter school network also teaches students to use their voice to advocate for themselves and share their ideas.
They get that voice and confidence, in part, school leaders say, from Uncommon’s performing arts program, which every student in the school is a part of.
“We view performing arts as part of the total package of college readiness,” said Juliana Worrell, chief schools officer, K-8, at Uncommon Schools. “Talent and voice are an integral part of getting into college and also being successful in college.”
During a time of remote learning, Uncommon New Jersey’s 31 performing arts teachers have continued to provide lessons on Uncommon’s K-8 video lesson platform, which is open to the public. But they also wanted a way to reach out to their students. So they created a video of all of them singing the school song - a feat accomplished by clever editing.
“It’s a song that most of them sing every day so it's a very familiar song for them all to hear,” said Connie Graham, who leads Uncommon School’s performing arts education. “We wanted them to have something that was familiar and comforting.”
The video was shared with the students on the performing arts homepage of the online learning platform for Uncommon Schools, the charter network that operates both North Star and Camden Prep.
“Performing arts is a huge part of the student experience at school,” Graham said. “The performing arts teachers really wanted to get their faces in front of the students and to tell them that we're thinking about them, we love them and that we're still here for them.”
Emily Rozek, who teaches at Vailsburg Elementary School, conceived the idea and once it was shared, all the other teachers immediately seized on it, Graham said. The teachers each interpreted the song in their own style, recorded it at home, then sent in the videos to Steve Hogle, who teaches at Vailsburg Middle School and happens to be a skilled video editor.
“It took a long time,” Graham said. “It was definitely a huge labor of love for Steve.”
Graham said students have been continuing with their performing arts education virtually. Last week, Uncommon unveiled online videos that students can follow so they can sing and dance while at home.
Performing arts is an essential part of the curriculum at Uncommon Schools, which also operates schools in Boston, New York City, Troy and Rochester, New York.
Every year, students in grades K-8 put on six live performances culminating in a spring musical play for each grade.
The students would have been practicing and performing their shows about now. Because schools are closed, the show can’t go on this year. But students are still learning songs from musicals and still learning the skills, Graham said.
“Performing arts is a full-on part of every student's experience and they trained in musical theater from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade in elementary school,” Graham said. “The goal of the performing arts program is to teach college-ready communication skills. So every single thing is built around building their confidence.”