Step by step, pose by pose, the kids at the Roberto Clemente School in the East Village are exploring their creativity. Mark DeGarmo Dance, a nonprofit aimed at changing children's lives through movement, offers a weekly program. “I think the opportunity that we’re providing is for the arts and dance specifically to unlock children’s imaginations and to help their physical development," Mark DeGarmo, founder and artistic director, said. It's also helping fill a void. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, only three percent of public elementary schools across the country offer dance classes taught by specialists.
30 years ago, DeGarmo launched 'Partnerships in Literacy through Dance and Creativity,' a program with a seven-year scope and sequence of instruction that's integrated with the students’ classroom curricula. The program is currently in 10 NYC schools, but has benefited 30 schools, mainly Title I, since its inception. “Our children, almost 100% live under the US poverty rate, and at this school, almost 50% of our children are homeless and living in foster care,” DeGarmo explained.
Helping the little ones through every class is a professional teaching artist. He or she provides dance classes to public elementary schools throughout the school year with 16 dance lessons per program of study. “I use really exciting music, I give clear directions, and I model a lot so they see what I want them to do,” Mary Seidman said.
The program also includes a classroom teacher-facilitated dance journal writing program and an end-of-program sharing for parents and the school community. Studies show that the program has a positive impact on our students’ academic outcomes as well as positively reinforcing their social and emotional skills. It’s become a safe space to be yourself and feel empowered. “I think they need a lot of love, and with that love comes structure," Seidman added. "Hopefully we're mimicking the characteristics of a good family and how you treat other people.”
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi