Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Step by Step: Keeping the Arts Alive

Step by Step: Keeping the Arts Alive

The documentary spans two years in the life of the Gouzounises and their charges. The couple has brought their program, Over the Top, to seven of the city’s 33 elementary schools.

Akeret Films
Daily Hampshire Gazette

Area school students take ballroom-dancing lessons.
In cities across the country, public schools are failing our children. Lack of funding, an increased emphasis on standardized test, and a general sentiment that "the arts are frivolous" have led to a dramatic cutback of art in our schools. The heart and soul of our schools are under attack, and this is undoubtedly a contributing factor in the soaring dropout rates.

According to the film, Springfield has a 44 percent child poverty rate, with 33 percent of its 26,000 students failing to graduate from high school.
Cutting the arts is seen by some as a contributing factor to Springfield’s educational woes. Though school systems as a whole are suffering financially, the film makes the point that many of the arts programs were gutted to beef up MCAS-dictated curriculum, namely programs in math and science, in a move detractors call “teaching to the test.”
“I believe we are shortchanging our children,” says Springfield Education Association President Timothy Collins in the film. “A child may go through 12 years of school without ever being in front of an art teacher or music teacher. Children need a chance to be successful during their day. Usually, kids who struggle have a tendency to shine when exposed to the arts.”

“It changed my life,” said one child named William. “I mostly got in trouble before; I had to change that.”
“He listened to what I said better,” said his mother, Gwendolyn Yates. “I said, ‘Are you my child?’”
Ruth Masarino, mother of an expressive dancer named Joel, said the program was a breath of fresh air for her cooped-up son.
“Sitting at a desk all day gets him a little irritated,” she said. “This gets him out of the classroom and gives him a chance to use his energy in a positive way.”
Teachers, it seems, appreciate a break from the routine, too. Cathy Lolos, a teacher at Brunton Elementary, said she and others have given up lunchtime and prep time to help students with their moves.
Not all principals have been receptive to the program, fearing it takes students away from more “important” things, to which Alyson Gouzounis replies: “We’re talking about 20 minutes twice a month. Surely your kids deserve 20 minutes.”

It's easy to point a finger and blame policy-makers for the current situation. It's another to take action and be part of finding a solution. In Springfield, Massachusetts, George and Alyson Gouzounis are doing what they can to stem the tide. In the fall of 2005, they initiated an innovative dance program designed to bring the arts back into the schools. Their program, Over the Top, teaches ballroom dancing to over one thousand fifth graders in seven public schools across the city. The students learn steps from the merengue and the mambo to the fox trot and swing. Students enjoy the exercise and the challenge of learning new dances. Lessons in dance also include mini-lessons in history, music, math, and even courtesy.

I saw this documentary last night on WGBY with my children. What a great documentary. As someone who was sitting on the fence on the issue of whether or not to keep the Arts in schools, this really helped me to decide that it would not benefit anyone to get rid of these such programs. And as a parent, to be able to watch this with my children and all of us learn things we didn't know about this program and hear my children say they would like to do that, is very special. It inspired them to want to be and do something greater. The program is free, unlike most programs for children. Which is exactly the reason that I never signed my kids up for these things. 4 person household, 1 income, does not equate to afford such programs. Now they can, and I am grateful.

I absolutely loved how they interviewed the children, parents and teachers. Who knew that kids who are having a hard time in school turn to the arts programs? The effects of eliminating arts programs from schools would be detrimental. This means that those children are the ones that drop out of school. Isn't this what we are trying to prevent?

My children related to the kids that were interviewed and found what they were doing interesting. I really think this program is great. Not only for self-esteem issues but also behavioral problems, as well. And who better for this than a Social Worker by day and Dance Teacher by Night?

How cute are George and Alyson Gouzounis as a couple and teachers? I just couldn't help but to say Awww.

I am just so inspired to get a hold of George and Alyson Gouzounis and find out how can I help them keep this program going?

I got a hold of the film maker, Julie at akeretfilms.com today and spoke with her personally. What a wonderful woman! She was so happy to hear my comments. And I was happy that she was doing such good work. She is going to get me in touch with the Gouzounis'es and I can't wait!

According to its Web site, Akeret’s production company, 20 Cents Left Productions, is “dedicated to making documentary films that explore social issues and people whose vision and drive often shape our view of these issues…We hope to make their voices heard above the din of popular culture.”

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