Sitting on the floor in a circle, the little ones began furiously flapping the wings of their butterflies.
To outsiders, these butterflies may just look like bent legs stretched at students’ sides, but, the children knew better – they were real wings.
“I’m going to Paris,” a little girl exclaimed, sure that with the speed of her flapping, she was bound to be airborne at any moment.
However, international destinations were not in the plans for this Wednesday afternoon. The preschool class at Salem Elementary School was having its weekly dance lessons, courtesy of their dance instructors, Salem High School Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) academy students Mallory George and Samantha Slader.
George and Slader are two in a team of six VPA students who have partnered with the elementary school this year to provide dance lessons to the school’s pre-kindergarten classes. The lessons take place during the preschoolers’ normally scheduled PE time.
Throughout their thirty minutes together, the preschoolers hopped, skipped and jumped over “puddles of water” on the Salem Elementary School stage (the puddles were blue-colored blankets brought by the high school students).
“I’m fast,” Jailan said, when asked what made him such a great skipper. After all, he would tell you, skipping is his favorite part of the dance time.
After the puddles were cleared, the group formed a giant circle on stage, holding hands, then stepping one foot at a time and jumping to bring them together in the air – learning the basic foundation of a chassé.
Then, the true highlight of dance time for almost all the dancers came at the end of the day: they were able to freestyle to Justin Timberlake’s summer hit, “Can’t Stop The Feeling” (from the soundtrack to the animated movie, Trolls).
At the mere mention of the song, their faces lit up with smiles and excitement.
They gleefully pranced and hopped around the stage, shaking their hands above their heads or finding a partner to swing in a circle. When the music stopped, however, they had to freeze in place and show off their best pose.
Throughout the dance lessons, the VPA students are in charge of not only keeping the students engaged, but also learning fundamentals of dance. The idea came from VPA Dance Instructor Katherine Flint, who emphasized the importance of the VPA students sharing their talents, gifts and time with the greater Virginia Beach community.
“We’re going to do baby steps,” she said, “starting with the babies.”
She reached out to her friend and Salem Elementary School preschool teacher assistant Tiffany York.
“I said, ‘Could my students and I come and teach your students creative movement?,’” Flint recalled. “This again is a great way to get kids into dance and to just get them moving.”
York shared the idea with Salem’s preschool team and they all saw the benefit of such a partnership. Teachers began the process of clearing the timing and the details with both schools’ administrations as well as the leadership of the VPA program. The high school students use this experience for different VPA requirements, including their community service hours or, in the case of George and Slader, as part of their job shadowing/internship requirement.
The girls come in earlier in the day and spend time with the preschoolers, helping them at different learning stations. According to Flint, the high-schoolers see firsthand what the preschoolers are learning in their classes, but they also see what teaching techniques work well with specific students. Plus, it gives the students a foundational relationship to build on during their dance time together.
“I always loved working with kids, teaching them things. They think they are playing. They don’t know that they are learning,” George said. “They definitely remember you. It’s so satisfying to come in and they say, ‘You’re back!’”
For Slader, who is considering pursuing a career in either occupational therapy or teaching, the chance to work with younger students while she is still in high school has been an eye-opening experience.
“Having the opportunity to work with the little kids, it’s really opening doors for me to see what I want to do,” Slader said. “It’s really interesting to see what they see and what they want dance to be…they remember everything and they’re willing to learn.”
They are not only willing to learn, they enjoy learning with their high school friends.
When asked what her favorite part of her day was, it wasn’t the butterflies, the puddle hopping or even the Trolls song that ranked first for preschooler Jasmine. It was her time with Slader.
“(My favorite is) Ms. Sam reading to me in my station.”