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Grant brings arts into classrooms

Performing arts help students visualize what they read, teacher explains.

October 18, 2013|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Elementary school students in Burbank will be coached by professional artists in a few months — some may gain experience that could lead to careers, others may simply grow from a nudge to come out of their shells.

A $10,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission will help fund a program in which artists from the 24th Street Theatre and the Music Center’s department of education will work with the students for five weeks beginning in January.

The county’s grant was matched by $6,000 from Burbank Unified, paving the way for the artists to visit each elementary school in the district.

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The grant is part of about $150,000 Burbank Unified has received from the county arts commission to host artists at Burbank schools to teach visual and performing arts, said Peggy Flynn, who is the visual and performing arts coordinator for Burbank Unified.

Prior to the program’s start, the artists will meet with teachers to go over the curriculum.

Many Burbank teachers, Flynn said, moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and then turned to teaching fulltime after stints of substitute teaching. Those educators who are familiar with acting and theater are eager to pass down their knowledge to students, but many more have no experience with it.

“Some of our best teachers are theater people,” she said. “The majority of our teachers don’t have any background in it. If they grew up in California post-1972, there’s a good chance they never had any arts education in their own background.”

In addition to the 26 elementary school teachers who will be exposed to the theater curriculum, Flynn said the instruction will help those students who are learning English or who may be shy about speaking before a crowd.

It could also help students who may not be able to visualize another reality beyond what’s written on a piece of paper, she said.

Flynn said her own son’s reading skills improved when he took a theater class in the eighth grade. Before the class, he hated reading because he could not visualize what he read in books. After taking the theater class, he confided that he could visualize images in his mind after reading lines on a page.

“It never occurred to me that he wasn’t doing that already,” Flynn said. In addition, she has seen other students shed their inhibitions on stage as they express themselves with their bodies and voices for the first time in a school setting.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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