On Wednesday, January 5, the Advanced Dance, African Diaspora, Electronic Music, Guitar, and Drama classes at Berkeley High School visited all three Berkeley Unified School District middle schools to promote the performing arts classes at BHS. However, this year, BHS’s band and orchestra teachers decided to let middle school students visit BHS to learn more about the music programs at BHS.
“In anticipation of the eighth graders selecting their electives courses for next year, we bring performers from many of the drama, dance, and music classes to present their performances and talk about the classes to give eighth graders a feel for all of the performing arts at BHS,” said Linda Carr, the teacher of the Modern/Jazz dance class and lead teacher for the Visual and Performing Arts department.
Sadie Fitzhugh, an eighth grader at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, who plays for their school orchestra, said that the field trip was incredible and it really felt like an accepting and learning-oriented environment.
Carr agreed with this sentiment: “The Arts on the Run field trip positively impacts students when they choose courses. I had an eighth grade student who ran to me at the Longfellow bus stop and said ‘I want to take the dance class.’”
Fitzhugh agreed, stating that even though it does positively impact their decisions next year, it’s hard to make a choice just yet, since they haven’t received all their class options.
They mentioned how on the way back, their class spent time on figuring how they can structure their schedules if they do end up taking the class next year.
Sawyer M.B. Erch, a BHS freshman who currently takes drama, said, “It was great to be able to use everything I’ve learned in beginning drama to show middle schoolers how great it is.”
They performed the ending act from A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen at all three of the middle schools.
Pedro Cintra, a freshman who currently takes guitar at BHS, shared that the visit was a positive experience being able to see the middle schoolers explore what they wanted to do at a new school and discover what they are interested in.
Carr agreed with this thought, stating that it inspires eighth graders and gives a little window into all of the cool things that the community at BHS does.
“It felt really special, and definitely got me thinking about doing Orchestra next year,” said Fitzhugh. “The program seems well-constructed and well-led, and I’m very excited to learn more about it or experience it myself!”
Bia Zerbini, a BHS freshman who also takes guitar, said that she had a lot of fun and that it’s always good to share art with kids and inspire them.
Jordan Winer, a drama teacher at BHS, added that Arts on the Run was a blast and a fun event to do. He mentioned that it was great to see the eighth graders excited and do something to get the word out to eighth graders, which is valuable.
However, he adds, “As a drama teacher struggling to fill two sections of beginning drama, the problem is a much deeper one and it takes real vision and leadership to solve it, way beyond this field trip.”
According to Carr, a problem with recruiting students for other performing classes is that Band and Orchestra already have classes at the middle schools. A tunnel to Band and Orchestra at BHS remains more prominent than dance classes.
Winer also said that in education, people working backwards. “We focus on academics and have a culture not just of academic emphasis but a student culture here that values taking 4 (Advanced Placement) classes above all else. As the adults in the room, we have to turn this around. I’ve been here 25 years and have seen this as fewer and fewer kids find time for the arts in their lives.”
A solution to this problem, according to Winer, would be an arts and humanities focus on education since those topics go to the core of what links us all as humans, as well as for practical reasons.
“People with strong arts/humanities backgrounds actually, in the long run, have greater success in careers, financially as well,” said Winer. “Even in (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers, because they are better at working with people, at employing different modes of thinking, and empathy and understanding.”