When we think of the arts in education, we picture musicians packed into a room, practicing a challenging piece together. We picture collaborative art classes, with students providing feedback on each-other’s masterpieces. We imagine stages full of actors, reading scripts and dancing together.
None of these images pass the six-feet social distancing test, so how does a school like Portsmouth Christian Academy (PCA), with a strong emphasis on the arts, continue educating students in the visual arts, theatre, and music?
Convinced of the important role of the arts during trying times, the Fine Arts team at PCA has shifted gears to deliver instruction remotely in creative ways. Katrina Veno, Music Teacher at PCA, says, “I’ve always believed that the arts have value and importance in our lives, but in difficult times such as these, I think the importance is elevated even further. Students (and all people) need to see and hear the beauty of God’s creation around them when their lives are uncertain. The arts allow us a brief escape from our task-oriented society, making room for creativity and replenishment.”
What does that look like in a remote classroom?
Like all classes at PCA, Visual Arts classes are now being held on Microsoft Teams. The collaborative nature of the Teams app allows for students to share photos of artwork and provide feedback and encouragement to one another, much like they would in the classroom. Assignments are designed to give students freedom to be creative and to use the art supplies available at home.
At the Lower School, students were encouraged to use their artistic gifts to create encouraging art and letters for local nursing homes, which was a blessing to local homes. More recently, they’ve worked on projects for the annual art show, which will be held online this year. Similarly, Junior High and Upper School students are busy creating art for the art show, in addition to various shorter-term projects. Students regularly post updates of their art in–progress to Teams, ready to receive feedback and encouragement from their teacher and classmates.
Moriah Mazzochi, Junior High and Upper School Art Teacher, says, “With visual arts, there are many opportunities to disconnect from the computer and connect with materials and even ourselves. My hope is that assignments are rejuvenating for students and providing them with something to look forward to. The visual arts can be used to make connections with others, express ourselves in confusing times, and incorporate some freeing humor.”
Teaching music from a distance can be tricky, but the Fine Arts team is making an intentional decision to continue instructing instrumental and vocal students.
In instrumental ensembles, students receive some instruction on new material through uploaded videos and written instruction. Students are given specific songs and skills to work on over the week, and submit recordings of themselves to teachers so they can hear the students’ progress. In addition, this time has provided an opportunity for Upper School vocal classes to take a deep dive into studies on musical theory, the integration of faith and art, and technique.
According to Carroll Stevens, Fine Arts Director, an intentional effort is being made to maintain the community aspect of group performance. “Singing or playing in an ensemble is very much about community. We’ve lost a bit of that by being separated. Nevertheless, we’ve still enjoyed some community experiences. We will sometimes meet over Zoom to discuss the things we’ve seen/read. We’ve also recently recorded our parts individually and compiled the videos to create a ‘virtual’ performance.” Check out that performance below!
“The show must go on” is a rallying cry for actors, but with the current situation, the show will not be taking place in person as planned this spring. Nevertheless, the spirit of the PCA theatre department is strong. While we know very little at this time, the drama folks at PCA say they have something up their sleeves! We’ve come to know that the theatre department at PCA is creative and devoted, so we’re looking forward to seeing how they are continuing to use their God-given talents during this time when live performances and packed-out shows aren’t possible.
According to Carroll Stevens, PCA joins musicians, artists, and actors around the world in tapping into creativity to cope with and find encouragement during this time. He says, “We’ve seen the arts virtually bringing people together into community like never before. In Italy, we’ve seen people singing together from their balconies. The online Social Distancing Festival is bringing professional artists’ artwork into people’s homes. Major arts organizations are offering free viewings of everything from recorded concerts to museum tours. At PCA, we want to see students continue to both grow in their artistic skills and bless others with them. And so, our teachers have been recording lessons for them as well as encouraging them to sing, make instruments, play instruments and create art for those around them. We find these avenues genuinely bringing joy and variety into the learning going on at home.”