In both the Lower School and Middle School art programs, our primary goal is to create a joyful and exciting atmosphere while nurturing a students’ appreciation of their own abilities. Our emphasis is on the process that children experience as they complete visual artistic work, rather than solely on the end product. In music and performing arts, we develop a sense of responsibility and the joy of being part of an ensemble, and teach about the varied aspects of the world of music.
Middle School Arts
Every child is an artist, a musician and an actor. The Middle School performing and fine arts program encourages a student’s self-confidence, creative spirit, and self-expression. We believe that by engaging in the act of creating students awaken to their true natures and uncover something of the mystery and beauty of being alive. The Arts program is committed to providing activities that highlight diverse cultures and a sweep of history. The music program celebrates diversity by exploring instruments, songs, compositions and dances from all over the world. Art and drama draw regularly from other cultures in the form of folktales and multicultural symbols, which are highlighted in assemblies, performances and art displays.
From Matisse-inspired collages that “paint” with scissors to multi-media portraits of fellow classmates our students embark on a journey of learning that stretches the imagination. As art skills are introduced or revisited, students use workbooks to record artistic processes and write personal reflections along with relevant information about art history and theory.
Working with clay is a unique and specialized art form that has spanned many centuries and cultures. Using a hands-on approach explore the nature of ceramics and the role it has played around the world. Using a variety of hand-building techniques, students create a body of work that includes functional and purely aesthetic work. Technical skills and imagination are the key ingredients, and both have an important place in the fun-filled ceramics room.
General Music and Handbells
The music program enhances students’ enjoyment and understanding of music, often complementing studies in other areas. Through listening, singing, playing instruments, and performing, fifth and sixth graders learn about music as varied as classical repertoire, American folk music, Zimbabwean marimba music and the Blues. The handbell program challenges them with music of increasing complexity. Students learn about music composition and play music composed for handbells as well as other genres of music: movie and show tunes, jazz and popular music. All fifth grade students sing in chorus. Sixth graders receive basic guitar instruction. Seventh and eighth graders may choose guitar or percussion for music electives. Each spring all seventh and eighth graders become the cast and crew of a full-length Broadway musical.
Middle school drama offers many ways for students to be involved in theater. They work on projection, stage presence and teamwork. In Grade 5 students work on a class production. Students in Grades 6, 7, and 8 may write their own plays or use published plays. Once a play has been chosen, students have voluntary in-class auditions, create scenery, costumes and props, and manage sound and lighting. Students have the choice in how they wish to participate in productions—either onstage or backstage. The drama program allows students to shine in new ways.
Number the Stars
A Case Study in Integrated Learning
St. John's students study World War II literature in the spring of their fourth grade year. Over the course of one month, Mrs. Odom (our fourth grade literature teacher), Mrs. Haynes (our fourth grade music teacher) and Mr. Parr (our integrated drama specialist) guide students through a unit on literature dealing with children affected by the Holocaust. The skills targeted by their instruction include cooperative learning, reading comprehension, critical thinking, creative writing, social awareness and empathy.
During the unit, students study geography and history corresponding to the stories they're reading: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, The Sneeches by Dr. Seuss and Fireflies in the Dark by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. They review photos of children who were in concentration camps, and each student selects a child to be the basis of his or her process drama. Students give life to the children they select. Using a child's expression as a starting point, they give their children names and interests and write a “biography of a stranger.” Students then use facts and ideas from the biography to create and perform monologues about the children they selected.
At the end of the unit, the fourth graders have a more intricate understanding of the complexities presented in World War II literature.