Research suggests that arts learning can play a crucial role in building confidence, enhancing learning and providing leadership skills. At Loyal Heights Elementary Theater Arts Group (TAG) they have been building the confidence of students for the last eight years. The first time I attended one of their plays, I was in complete awe. The play consisted of students of all elementary school age from cast members to the stage crew. The confidence and skills that they had developed were clearly present.
Loyal Heights Elementary TAG is a PTA sponsored enrichment program within the Seattle Public School System. Each year approximately 45% of their student body along with staff, parents, and the community put on a play around early spring. The production is performed to over 1,900 audience members in a two day period.
For six months prior to the play, each cast member receives quality acting, dancing, and music training. The Rehearsal Assistant Team members (student stage crew) receive theatre production training over the course of 5 months. These pieces of training have been proven to build self-confidence, public speaking skills, and encourages teamwork and building relationships among the students. TAG strongly reinforces their commitment to students reaching their full potential through their “Every Child a Star” program. Every child is represented in a photograph and by name in the playbill.
TAG also has an alumni program where they invite past cast and crew members to participate as mentors for their current cast members. The play is performed at Ballard High School where the students in the Ballard High School Drama Program are able to gain experience in theatre production.
What struck me the most about TAG is their commitment to equity and inclusion. TAG offers a more robust musical theatre experience to their students at a considerably less cost than other programs throughout the city of Seattle. Scholarships are available so all students can have the opportunity to be involved. A 2012 study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that students from low-income families receive the greatest benefit from arts education, including stronger academic performance, increased high school graduation and college attendance rates, and more civic engagement as both students and adults. These results suggest that arts learning can play a critical role in enhancing educational equity in achievement and attainment.
TAG is also committed to social justice and providing children the opportunity for learning and growing. One of their past plays (Peter Pan Jr.) had a complicated history and could have been culturally insensitive. The TAG team along with an Equity Liaison approached the script (within what’s legal with script licensing) through an equity lens to make thoughtful choices in addressing cultural insensitivities. They provided opportunities for students to learn and be curious about different backgrounds, cultures, and the significance of their histories. For this year’s production, Mary Poppins Jr., the production team provided students with historical contexts to recognize social and gender discriminations. Students were introduced to the Suffragette Movement and the significance of the movement for women’s voting rights.
Teachers and parents have reported that students have stronger academic performance, collaboration, creativity, and an excitement to be at school during times of rehearsal and production. These reportings solidify the importance of art education.