“Be joyful because you have hope!” Romans 12:12
In the most recent Lower School Morning Meeting, religion teachers Jenny Koenig and Laura Portwood reminded students and families of this powerful verse and its ability to change our perspective. As we see images of professional artists singing from balconies, doctors playing piano in empty hospital atriums or even children creating positive messages with sidewalk chalk, we see this verse in action. Through art and creativity people are finding ways to stay connected and uplift one another in meaningful ways.
“We need to create- humans need to be creative, it’s a part of who we are on a cellular basis,” says Episcopal Visual and Performing Arts Director Paige Gagliano. “We tell our stories through song, paint, music and other characters. Personally, I feel I am closest to God when I am creating.”
Episcopal’s teacher/artists have helped students continue creating, finding innovative ways to do so during a time of Distance Learning. “Since the start of Distance Learning, my top priority has been to create a way for the show to go on in some capacity,” says Band Director Doug Gay. “The students (6th-12th grade) and I have been working on creating a ‘Virtual Spring Concert Series’ to present to the Episcopal community.” Students submitted videos of themselves playing the same song remotely and Gay spent countless hours compiling them into one united performance. The completed video series highlights the talent and dedication of Episcopal musicians. “This process has been very special to me, watching them continue to learn and grow, and laughing at the many funny comments they make in their video submissions,” says Gay. “I am incredibly proud of them.”
Members of the Episcopal choir also had the opportunity to perform. Students sang their hearts out in a virtual performance that was presented during a watch party attended by enthusiastic family members and friends. “This was a rewarding yet challenging endeavor that leaves me feeling fulfilled at the close of a bizarre school year,” says Choir Director Mary Kannenberg. “I am so thrilled that we were able to give the students an experience that seemed impossible and I’m so grateful to all the people that helped us get there.”
Like teachers in a range of subjects, the art teachers are all grateful for the opportunity to continue working with students. While it may seem difficult to teach art during separation, the educators found a way. "At first, I was skeptical about the online acting class for middle schoolers,” says theater teacher Joe Reynolds. “But, of course, they surprised me with imaginative lip-syncs, creative original monologues, comic newscasts, and truthful journal entries of their 'Life on Mars -- alone for 180 days!’”
In Lower School, students are also continuing to create. “Pre-K through fourth grade students have been given opportunities to reinforce music skills through games and interactive music sites and have listened and responded to many great works,” says music teacher Tricia Deloney. In addition, Deloney worked with fifth graders to create the much-anticipated STOMP performance using Seesaw. The final project will be up for viewing after the last Morning Meeting on May 20th.
Missing school, teachers and friends can be stressful, and that is where the art of dance can be helpful. “The one thing that I have done that I feel is important was to remind students to move, stretch and breathe,” says dance teacher Christine Chrest. Chrest says students have appreciated the reminder to work out the stress in this creative way and many of them said it was just what they needed.
Gagliano says there have actually been benefits for some students as a result of this new style of learning. “I found meeting my middle school students in smaller synchronous classes where we would rehearse monologues and discuss character development was really great BECAUSE I saw them come out of their shells and they were willing to take much larger chances in front of a group of four during a synchronous class,” she says. “They became open and vulnerable in ways that are difficult for any teen.”
Visual art teacher Karen Koprowski-Stout points out the benefits of tapping into the inner artist. “The visual arts develop one’s ability to problem solve, fail and succeed, fine motor skills, brain development and new connections as well as accessing the elusive FLOW STATE,” she says. Those problem-solving skills have proven quite valuable in Media Arts classes, especially among the yearbook staff. Teacher and yearbook advisor Dianne Madden says, “working off-campus on the yearbook, away from our files and computers took a lot of problem-solving from everyone. Through trial and error and a one on one with Adobe Creative Cloud, student leaders collaborated to create a system.”
Through collaboration and dedication, joyful learning has certainly not “gone dark” as they say in the theater world. It continues among Episcopal students in all divisions and all subjects. The efforts of those in Episcopal’s art department are just one of the many examples of faculty, staff, students and parents doing their part to inspire positivity and hope until we all meet again in person.