Last spring, Lower School Head Lea Van Ness took the opportunity to take a deep dive into the School’s performing arts programming and identify tangible ways to expand and refine the School’s fine arts offerings for our younger students. She set off on a journey to explore how a range of other independent schools were adapting their arts programming to respond to current demands, which brought her to various schools in Southern California known for the strength of their arts programming. What emerged from this thoughtful and deliberate process was the introduction of a new drama program tailored to fourth- and fifth-graders.
Enter Andie Patterson. Since the beginning of the school year, seasoned educational theater instructor Ms. Patterson has been introducing students to the inspiring world of drama and performance through a dynamic and innovative new theater program. Fresh off their first productions, students have fully embraced the opportunity to craft their own performing art.
"I was amazed by how completely committed the kids were to their story and to one another,” Patterson reflects. From the initial brainstorming process through completion, the recent plays were the result of a full team effort largely driven by students—from storyline and character development to music, costuming, and set design. Emphasizing the process over the final product, Patterson remarked how collaboration became key: “Students had to learn to listen and share the air. They had to engage in compromise and say ‘yes’ to ideas that were not their own.” Ultimately, this practice of ‘ensembleship’ allows students to learn how to work with others, and to offer and receive constructive feedback.” The plays also reflected close collaboration from the Head-Royce arts faculty—new Orff-trained music teacher Andrea Donohue and art teacher Marissa Kunz have been key partners in the new 4/5 drama program.
In addition to learning to collaborate cooperatively, 4th- and 5th-graders are learning how to make valuable connections to their curriculum across disciplines. For example, students will be relying on Social Studies content to create “process dramas,” where they will pick a historical conflict to re-enact (the experience in California Missions, for example). Not only does process drama allow students to bring significant moments of struggle to life in meaningful ways, but it also evokes a natural sense of empathy and a deeper understanding of the human experience that cannot be gleaned through passive study.
Patterson will also introduce improvisation and theatre games to create public speaking and performing opportunities that further develop the “4Cs”—creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking; skills that are increasingly necessary for a 21st-century learners.
Van Ness reflected, “Andie is a magnificent addition to our faculty with a real ability to hone in on the specific needs of our students. The skills she is teaching are true life skills that will enhance our students’ ability to thrive in the world they will inherit.”