​Arts & Education: the value of deeper engagement

​Arts & Education: the value of deeper engagement

This case study explores the benefits of long-term dance engagement with St Kilda Primary, an inner city multicultural school in Melbourne who have been working with The Australian Ballet Education over 10 years.

Located just a tram ride away from The Australian Ballet’s Melbourne HQ, is one of Victoria’s most socially and culturally diverse primary schools, St Kilda Primary School. It welcomes students from all backgrounds, from affluent families to those who have experienced homelessness or displacement. Nearly ten years ago, staff from The Australian Ballet Education Team boarded the number 67 tram to meet the Principal, Sue Higgins. From that meeting began a partnership that has benefited thousands of children.

Principal Susan Higgins feels “It’s a real partnership rather than a one-off experience ... It has enriched our school ... I’ve seen the difference it has made to the children”.

For Sue, the partnership is about giving children experiences they would not otherwise have, particularly some of her students who come from families experiencing serious hardship.“Even though The Australian Ballet and the Arts Precinct is just down the road from us, it did not, and does not mean that some of my children are exposed to the richness of that world.”

Sue also observes that having the Ballet visit the school every year deepens and normalises the experiences for students.“When the children walk into the hall and they know The Australian Ballet has arrived, the excitement builds, because they have had rich experiences in the past and they are eager to reconnect … and it is amazing to see the children’s skills develop over time … It's a program that builds upon skills and instils in children confidence and the belief that they can master these new challenges.

.... When the students start off in Prep they throw their little hearts into every aspect of the program – they love it. As they get older, they're asking more questions and focusing more intently on movement, better understanding teamwork and appreciating ‘space’ around them. These are some of the benefits of having a long-term partnership rather than a one-off experience.”

Last year, for the first time, the program involved a week-long residency at the school that culminated in a performance celebrated by the school community. This engagement challenged the students and deepened their experience.

“Everybody was in the audience and everybody also performed and it was just remarkable … such a lot of it is about teamwork, respect, understanding and trust … They do find it challenging, but they love it.”

There are curriculum links associated with the education program, especially in the areas of Health and Physical Education, and Performing Arts.

"The knowledge and skills that [students] are developing when they're with the Ballet include having a greater understanding of themselves and their own body movement, and that of others, and being better able to work together to explore, create and share newly learned movements and different skills. They're able to do this with far more confidence …”

Sue describes it as “authentic learning”. “In today’s world, there is a great deal of “virtual” learning. But this is real. You can touch the dancers … It's happening in front of their eyes. The children are truly a part of it.”

Sue has noticed another important benefit of the program is that it has broadened the students’ horizons and helps them think differently about the world.“It’s enriched the lives of children at our school … I've seen the difference it has made to the children here ... I believe that it has enriched their lives and their understanding of themselves and others and I truly believe that it's been an opportunity for them to see life isn't just about just learning to play basketball or footy, but there's a whole other world out there that is beautiful and rich and stimulating for minds and bodies.”

For some students, their involvement in the program has been transformative.“I've had children who have gone on to do dance as a result of the education program. I have a child who is truly alive when he dances. He loves dancing. He's a different child when he's dancing … and he is one of several children who have gone into dance directly as a result of The Australian Ballet being part of our school.”

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