Janesville students 'bridging' dance and academics - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Janesville students 'bridging' dance and academics

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Courtesy:  Leah Hellenbrand Courtesy: Leah Hellenbrand

JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- A unique project at a Janesville elementary school is tying together academics and the arts. All month long students at Kennedy Elementary have been working with a guest artist, learning to put science and social studies concepts into movement, specifically into dance.

The "Water Bridges" dance residency began with a kick off assembly in early January. During the gathering, Karen McShane-Hellenbrand introduced Kennedy students to dance as an art form by showcasing a dance piece featuring UW-Madison Dance Department Dancers. McShane-Hellenbrand is a faculty associate with the UW-Madison Dance Department.

In the following weeks, McShane-Hellenbrand met with individual classes and grade levels, teaching students how to use the vehicle of creative dance to express specific academic objectives. Concepts all related to a "water" theme and included things like the five senses, the water cycle and water in the human body.

Kennedy students are now working toward a school wide performance, which will feature almost 400 students dancing.

Fourth grade teacher Leah Hellenbrand has been coordinating the project, helping youngsters connect environmental advocacy, arts and academics. She says the "Water Bridges" program 'bridges' in both a literal and figurative sense. Dance standards will be targeted alongside academic standards with students literally creating bridge structures as set design and props for the dance residency performances.

Hellenbrand points out that dance is almost non-existent in elementary schools, so this is a rare opportunity for Kennedy students.

Kennedy principal Allison DeGraaf says it has been a rich and effective experience for students. She believes the arts-integration focus will help them think critically, creatively and innovatively.

The final performance on January 23 will feature student-created choreography as well as the learning concepts students have explored throughout the residency.

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