Cody arrived in a fourth grade class at IAA from a public elementary school in Florida. His class was just starting an integrated arts unit combining dance and the scientific principles on the states of matter. As students prepared to start their first lesson and conduct dance warmups, Cody shut down. He didn't want to dance, didn't like dance and exclaimed, "Dancing for girls!"
Understanding that Cody had never experienced this type of risk taking, had no familiarity with the arts at this level and was self conscious about dancing, his teacher and I just had an informal talk. We affirmed his feelings and demonstrated understanding. We talked about how most of his classmates had done this type of work, as an ensemble in their grade levels, over the last 5 years. I also mentioned that one of the NFL's best all-time wide receivers, Lynn Swann, used ballet to improve his skills on the gridiron.
We were able to get Cody back to his class and I sat with him and we just watched his classmate perform. We talked about what they were doing and how it might make him feel if he were experiencing these activities with his peers. Over the next several classes times I met with Cody and we slowly explore concepts and ideas of dance. Initially, it was the two of us tapping our toes to the beat. The next time we were clapping and tapping at the same time. Eventually, we stood and moved our bodies to the sound of the music. A few days in, cody, unprompted, joined his class and fully participated.
Fast forward to last week. We had some of Senator Bernie Sanders' staff from Burlington and Washington, DC touring the school and visiting with my arts coach and I. We walked into Cody's fourth grade class and I asked students to describe what they loved about IAA and what makes us unique as a school. Several students offered their observations when I noticed Cody's hand go up. I bet you can imagine what he shared. He talked about Dance. He expressed how it is fun to move to the music, how everyone works together and how it helps him understand. He concluded his commentary with a hearty, "I love dancing!"
In a short time the power of the arts allowed a student to change perceptions, connect to his community in a deep and meaningful way and develop a more positive sense of self. Not many other content areas that can do that so quickly.