UCSC Theater Arts Instructor responds to arts funding cuts in community school with innovative teaching program

Renowned dance choreographer, performer and teacher Tandy Beal has performed in major cities and festivals on four continents. She has created works for dance, film, circus, television, theater, animation, and even half-time for the San Francisco 49ers! But when she heard last summer that a public school in her community was facing major funding cuts for its arts programs, Beal responded with an innovative teaching program.

A theater arts instructor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Beal called Sue Forson, principal and co-founder of Watsonville Charter School of the Arts, a predominately Latino school located about 25 miles south of the campus. She offered to mentor her UC students to go into all of the charter school's classes with lesson plans about art that were connected to the curriculum. The students would come from Beal's UCSC class titled "Art, Education & the Community."

"Tandy is a master teacher and she provides solid support," said Forson. My arts funding was severely reduced. This costs my school nothing. It's a gift."

Beal's' program is unique in that she sends her UC students into the classroom in teams of three to five people. They work with each teacher's curriculum and come up with their own creative lesson plans in subjects such as science, literature and social studies.

"All my teachers really enjoy the infusion of energy and richness that the UCSC students bring," Forson noted. "And it's not just an imposition on their day. It's taking what the teachers need to cover--state standards--and adding an enrichment component. It's directly related to the content they're covering anyway. I really think it's fabulous."

In her UCSC class, Beal models different ways to approach classes for children. Her students read articles and spend a great deal of time practicing teaching techniques and getting feedback from each other.

"College students have enormous passion," Beal noted. "If you can help them use that passion and love of the arts and give them an opportunity to see they can make a difference in the community.well, that's what my best teaching is about. If people know they can make a difference at a young age, the whole trajectory of their lives can change."

Movement exercises are being used to motivate public school students who may be reluctant to participate in creative projects. Lessons on beat and rhythm, and dance games are helping elementary students memorize science facts about bats, or retain information about plate tectonics and movement of the earth. Younger children are making mobiles of their family members, or sock puppets of the person who cares for them, to help them visually represent their feelings.

"Even though most of us in the class at UCSC are artists, we're not learning to become art teachers, explained 19-year-old Rebecca Wolfe, an undeclared sophomore major. "We're here to give these kids a sense of community through the arts and give them skills, as well as teach them respect and a sense of responsibility. We're using the arts as a tool to learn and have fun."As students at UCSC, it's a huge learning opportunity for us," added Seth Weiner a 21-year-old community studies junior. "We learn just as much--if not more--than the kids we teach. This is a prime example of experiential learning which I really believe in."

Beal has spent nearly 30 years focusing on the relationship between art and community--ever since she became one of the first funded instructors to teach dance in the public schools in 1968.

"Our UC students are learning from the classroom students and the classroom teachers," Beal said. "They are bringing in their zest and appetite for the arts, but not much experience teaching. The children benefit, while the UC students are able to put the theory they have learned into real-life practice. My hope is that some of them will choose to become teachers after this."

Beal is working on having older students from the Watsonville school come to campus in the future to see what university life is like. "This age can be crucial for students in deciding whether to commit to school 100 percent or become a slacker," she added. "It may plant some seeds that may make a real difference in a kid's life."