Dancers from The Galloway School in Buckhead rehearse their part of the school’s original work that includes students in all of the arts programs. CONTRIBUTED

Making the Grade: Buckhead school combines disciplines in one project

Since the beginning of the school year, it hasn’t been music, dance, art or playwriting class as usual for students at The Galloway School. The Buckhead institution took a different approach this term and offered students the chance to create an original work that blends all elements of the arts into one production that will debut Dec. 7.

“It’s been a real paradigm change for our students. Usually the classroom model is the teacher telling you what to practice for the fall concert,” said Kerren Berz, the school’s orchestra director. “We blew that pattern apart. You should have seen the eyeballs when we gathered all the arts students and told them about this project. Their minds were blown.”

What Berz and her colleagues presented was the idea of designing a multi-discipline work around a single theme of home.

“We were very interested in kids being involved in the creative process and finding opportunities for them to shape what they’re learning,” said Peggy Benkeser, Galloway’s arts director. “That can look very different, depending on which class they’re in. Improvising and allowing students time to explore the topic were integral, as was getting them comfortable moving within an emotion or using one’s instrument to express an emotion.”

For playwriting students, the project meant coming up with a common thread to tie elements of dance, art and music into one production. Gradually, the other arts came into the process.

“Our actors came into it about four weeks ago, and they and the dancers meet four days a week,” said Megan Cramer, the school’s theater teacher. “We knew we’d all create something central and then connect all the pieces. With so many stories happening around the world about refugees and storms uprooting people, we thought ‘home’ could be a really exciting conversation starter.”

Using that theme, students reached out to peers, family and faculty to learn what “home” means to them.

“We asked a lot of questions around a time they were made to feel unwelcome, where do they feel most at home, did they ever have to change homes,” said Cramer. “Finding the lines through what it means to be a new person in the community, or the person who leaves home to go to college, we came up with characters to represent elements in the story.”

Taking on the challenge of making their own art was a bit easier for her students, said dance teacher Sally Cramer.

“It’s very natural in my art from to do things like this,” she said. “And it’s something I’ve wanted our students to experience. They’re doing a lot of the choreography themselves, and that’s very different for them, as is working with other art forms. But these are also things they’ll be asked to do in the workplace: collaboration, taking risks and creating something that we won’t know what it will look like until it’s finished. That creates a level of discomfort and unease, but that’s how the best art is created. And this has given them a new confidence about creating; they have complete ownership.”

Junior Yewande Sofola is owning several roles in the process. For each performance, she’ll be playing the violin and dancing. She also put together an orchestral arrangement for four students that represents their cultural homes in Nigeria, Jamaica and India.

“When I first heard about it, I thought it was a really ambitious project and I wasn’t sure how it would work out,” she said. “It’s taken a lot of preparation with so many different groups. It is hard to see the final product. But I can’t wait.”

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SEND US YOUR STORIES Each week we look at programs, projects and other successful endeavors at area schools-from pre-K to grad school.To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.

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