Fine Arts Builds Community Through eLearning

May 06, 2020

When eLearning began, District administration worked to prioritize fine arts and extracurricular classes just as much as core classes such as English, math, science and social studies.

“Students need the opportunity to express themselves creatively and to engage in activities that are beyond the core curriculum,” said Wes Cunnigham, Frisco ISD chief academic officer. “The fine arts curriculum is just as important and even more important in times like these.”

Even for the community, celebrating the arts has been a happy distraction. Fine arts teachers and students have spread joy with chalk art, decorated rocks and collaborative musical performances.

Liberty Orchestra See You Again Zoom PerformanceA recent musical collaboration from Liberty High School’s orchestra program playing Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” garnered nearly 930,000 Facebook engagements through District social media.

Director Julie Blackstock said she came up with the idea after talking to student leaders about ways to boost morale. The song seemed like the perfect piece.

“We really were just intending it for our little orchestra family but the sentiment at the end is the same for everybody,” Blackstock said. “The message of music speaks loud and clear.”

Across the District, students are actively participating in fine arts classes where they have the freedom to create and thrive.

Lebanon Trail High School theatre teacher Michael Hollomon’s students have been sending videos via Flipgrid demonstrating their proficiency in everything from monologues to improvisational acting. 

“Students are creating musical theatre presentations while integrating technology, and it’s great seeing their faces while they demonstrate what they have created,” Hollomon said. “During eLearning, I have focused on the fun aspects of theatre and encouraged students to do more presentations to get them up and active.”

The Lebanon Trail theatre department recently received a memorable Twitter shout out from Lindsay Pearce who stars as Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway. She explained that this epidemic is merely an intermission and that the show would go on. Her outreach to the Lebanon Trail theatre department exemplifies the camaraderie within the fine arts community.

Scoggins Middle School students had the opportunity to learn from Emmy and Academy Award winning special effects makeup artist Howard Berger. Theatre teachers Kristin Figueroa and Allison Garrett collaborated to ask Berger questions on behalf of their students.

“Students had the opportunity to learn about persevering through failure, overcoming dyslexia and the importance of being creative on their own terms,” Figueroa explained.

While eLearning has provided additional opportunities for students, it has also provided opportunities for families to engage in creative learning through collaboration.

Bledsoe art teacher Emily Harris has watched the community embrace an art project where students and staff recreate famous works of art from home.

“It’s been really great to see entire families working together to observe art and think of creative ways to represent it,” Harris said. “I love that sharing art is keeping us connected during our time with eLearning.” 

In it’s fifth time recognized as one of the Best Communities for Music Education in the United States, Frisco ISD music teachers are a step ahead of the rest.

Independence High School choir director Rob Draper guides his students with the mantra “Know your part and know what you’re a part of.” Through eLearning, he has engaged his students in an exploration of choral literature and facilitated the first e-audition for the Independence choir.

“Students and teachers are learning and embracing technology,” Draper said. “This strange time is an opportunity to do something new and interesting.”

Meanwhile, Vaughn Elementary music teacher Heather Surillo has witnessed her students take ownership of their learning through the implementation of choice boards.

Choice boards provide an overarching theme like “tempo” or “opera” but students have the ability to choose how they demonstrate their knowledge of the concept. Some choices are very structured and some are more open ended and left to the student to interpret. 

“I have seen my students grow as musicians exponentially since implementing choice boards in my classroom,” Surillo said. “Students are going above and beyond my requirements and exploring their own creativity.

“I think that the arts have helped our students cope during this time and I think that people are truly seeing how important the arts are for the development of the whole child. If my music assignments can bring a little joy (and a whole lot of fun) to my students during this time, then I have done my job.”

With the guidance of fine arts teachers, it is clear that students continue to blossom and create during eLearning. Keep an eye on the Frisco ISD Fine Arts Facebook page for the latest examples of students excelling through fine arts during eLearning.

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