My service year through dance at Bregy Elementary School
- By Mary Elizabeth Stickney
Hello, my name is Mary Stickney, and I am an ArtistYear AmeriCorps Dance Fellow at Bregy Elementary School in South Philadelphia. I embarked on the ArtistYear journey thinking that it would be a perfect way to incorporate both my Dance and Elementary Education degrees from Drexel University. I was very interested in manifesting that through a service year.
Truthfully, there were moments in the Fall and Winter that I just wanted the year to be over. It was quite tough planning for 9 different grade levels and 15 different classrooms per week. I did not know my place in the school – was I more engaging to early elementary students or the middle schoolers? Was I the PE teacher’s co-teacher? Or was I “Dance Lady”, as some students so lovingly called me?
The irony of not knowing where I fit was that I taught 80% of the students and gradually became familiar with most of the staff members. I was highly immersed into the community. I also provided music and movement at recess, co-directed an afterschool dance program, and collaborated with other arts programming, such as Enchantment Theatre Company’s education program.
I think a turning point was when I noticed my students demonstrating their learning through their various experiences with me. They were excited to try new movement concepts, willing to work with any of their classmates, practiced positive social skills, and were eager to create and share their choreography. “Ms. S., can we show you a dance we made up?” “Ms. S., will we be dancing with you at recess today?” “Look, Ms. S. – we both have ballerina buns in our hair today!” They were making connections, and piecing together their experiences, just like I was doing with my teaching.
The most important aspect of this service year was building positive, trusting relationships with my students. This took plenty of time. It took time to show that I wanted them to not only learn something valuable, but enjoy doing it, and connect with their classmates and me in the process.
When I experienced the disappointment and frustration of not knowing my place and not feeling confident in my work, I now understand that this may have been exactly how some students felt in my class. Just as long as it took me to feel a solid part of this community, some students took just as long to find a solid, trusting relationship with me.
My ArtistYear allowed me to build patience, to demonstrate transparent understanding, and to give students the space they needed to learn and grow. Once I was able to connect with my students on this level, they could share just as much experience and wisdom with me as I could with them.