There are so many incredible schools that are arts-focused. They have figured out a way to provide all the core subjects, but still with a strong emphasis on the arts, which as far as I’m concerned is the way it should be! So many children do not find their place in the traditional education model and it is important for alternatives to exist so that all children can thrive in school, find their voice and develop into the best version of themselves.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Michael Guzzi, CEO of Studio 9 Independent School of the Arts in Kelowna, BC Canada. The work they do is innovative, unique and something other educators should be aware of. In their curriculum you will see things like Dance in Science; Music in Physics; Theatre in French; and Art in English. Enjoy hearing Michael’s thoughts below….

Lisa’s Question:  Tell us about your school and what it’s mission is. 

Michael’s Answer: Studio9 is an inclusive arts school where those who love the arts are welcome to come and learn. Teaching and learning through the arts, we believe, provides not only an energetic and creative learning atmosphere, but also a place where new and emerging ideas are formed. Students get to live as they are, in an atmosphere of respect for differences and a love for life.  Our mission is much like you Artistic Edge Poster says…..”Through the arts I learn what I need to succeed”.

Lisa’s Question:  What do you notice most about the ability of young people to communicate today versus children 15-20 years ago? 

Michael’s Answer: We have found a remarkable reserve and even fear in students coming to us when it comes to communicating human to human.  They are less reserved when they have a keyboard or other tool to hide behind. We have worked with incredibly intelligent young people would not even look us in the eye initially.  They would offer little of themselves until trust is built.  On the other hand, there are some students who are very communicative and gregarious, sometimes saying more than their parents want 🙂  The most troubling aspect we often see is the need to be instantly connected and feeling that their virtual world is more real and important than face to face interaction.

Lisa’s Question:  One of the focuses of The Artistic Edge is to highlight how the arts teaches the skill of communication. How is your arts program fostering that skill?  

Michael’s Answer: Both the arts programming (our students take 9 different arts electives) and our complete project based learning based curriculum focus on collaboration and communication.  In project based learning students are asked to answer an essential question to demonstrate they understand skills/knowledge taught or discovered.  They complete the following process:

  • essential question
  • brainstorm
  • plan their own project to demonstrate or apply the knowledge/skills
  • implement the project
  • analyze results
  • present those findings to class, teachers, experts or the general public

That process happens over and over again in all subjects and all grades.  Communication/presentation skills are taught along the way.  By nature, the arts are all project based learning – whether developing a character in a play, writing and performing music, communicating through visual art, etc. After students spend some time with us they build confidence and are not afraid to interpret their world and communicate that vision.

Lisa’s Question: What approach does your school take to integrate the arts into other core subjects?

Michael’s Answer: We are as cross curricular as we can possibly be using the arts as the vessel.  As an example our January show #SocialChange150 focused on what is needed to affect positive social change in our country from 150 years forward. No topic was out of bounds and children picked equal rights, environment, right to choose, gender equality, gender identity, poverty, racial equality, etc.   In Social Studies and Science they investigated social justice, social change, possibilities for the future, using the past and current knowledge. In English and Creative Writing poetry was written on their topics. In French it was translated for presentation.

Some poetry was turned into songs in Band, others were recited in a slam or spoken word poetry performance with the help of both English and Drama.  Social Justice issues were chosen to represent in dance and once music was picked, choreography was developed.  In Digital Arts projection pack drops were produced to relay the messages of each performance visually both still and video.  In Visual Arts, drawings, paintings, dioramas and sculptures were produced to sonicate social change.  It all came together in one evening and one matinee performance of 90 minutes each. We love to have one school wide curricular theme.

Lisa’s Question: What is most important for a teacher to be aware of when lesson planning if they want to integrate the arts into what they are teaching? What advice would you give them? 

Michael’s Answer: Best advice is simple. Get over yourself and the society norm and reach further. See further.  If you believe the arts are life and reflect everything in society, use them as a communication tool.  Get out of the box…really….get out. Study history in Social Studies using the arts of the day.  Study science by studying the arts of the day, use the arts in science experiments and teach science concepts through dance or colour.

Use math numbers or equations and turn them into artwork. Teach the business of the arts as opposed to General Business…..there are a million lesson in the arts, Perform your English writings, don’t write 1500 word essays block format. Most importantly, allow discovery and whenever possible allow the student to teach the teacher through art.  They still see imaginary things and possibilities we may have lost the ability to see because of process or rules.

Lisa’s Question: Why are the arts important for a child’s future? 

Michael’s Answer: Arts are Life. Think about how arts are integrated into all of our lives.  Remember the music at your first dance, when you fell in love, when you lost someone? Music makes us feel and reflect how we feel.  That is darn important. Don’t we decorate our homes, our cars, our offices and our bodies? That is art. We move to express joy or love, that is dance. Yes, it is important.  Look at the power of theatre.  People propose after live theatre, get divorced after live theatre, feel free after a live theatre show, reflect on themselves after live theatre…it’s important stuff. Computers and phones are full of graphic art communication, which is so important this generation. What would anyone think the arts are NOT important? That is the better question.

***To learn more about Studio 9 visit their website: http://www.studio9.ca/