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Arts & Cultural Vitality / 2013

everybody dance: Training LA’s Teachers to Bring Dance Education Back to LA’s K8 Schools

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The Gabriella Foundation

everybody dance! is “the best program I have seen in this country." -- Renowned choreographer and New York City ballet soloist Benjamin Millepied.

Originally established in 1999, The Gabriella Foundation was founded by Liza Bercovici in memory of her daughter Gabriella, a thirteen year old who loved to dance. The Foundation’s initial program, everybody dance!, began in 2000 by providing 12 weekly dance classes to 35 children in a low-income housing project just west of downtown LA. That program has since grown to become the largest dance program in LA providing sequential, long-term dance training to underserved, inner-city children and youth. Today we provide approximately 200 weekly school-based and after-school/weekend classes to more than 2,200 inner-city students at six inner-city sites, including Camino Nuevo charter school campuses and our studios downtown. Yet we fall far short of demand for our programs: In 2012, nearly 1,000 children applied through our lottery for 125 available openings.

In 2005, we established Gabriella Charter School (GCS), the only dance-themed public elementary school in LA (and perhaps the nation), where students take an hour of dance each school day. While 91% of our students are socio-economically disadvantaged and 41% are English Learners, GCS’ 2012 API score of 894 make it one of the top-performing public schools in LA. In 2012, GCS was named “Charter School of the Year” by the California Charter Schools Association. LA Unified, proud of our school’s success, has established a unique long-term facilities agreement with us in Echo Park and built new dance studios for our use; LAUSD also invited us to triple enrollment from our original plan and expand to a K-8 continuum. Today GCS enrolls 463 students and maintains a lengthy waiting list.

Now, The Gabriella Foundation seeks to dramatically change the opportunity gap in dance education across LA’s public schools by training K-8 teachers – both trained dancers as well as those with no formal dance training -- to implement dance enrichment programs and integrated dance curriculum to ensure that every child in LA is able to experience quality dance education. Not only will ensuring access to quality dance education for all children improve Arts & Cultural Vitality in LA, but also Education (and thus Income & Employment), Health, and Social Connectedness for our City.

Our acclaimed dance faculty is comprised of professional dancers described by the LA Times as "some of the best children's dance instructors in the world.” These experts in dance have worked closely with our academic faculty over the years to design curriculum that integrates dance into “core” learning (English language arts, math, science and social science) both thematically and literally, all tied to state academic standards for each grade level.

After years of decimating funding for arts education, the LAUSD School Board recently passed the “Arts at the Core” Resolution, declaring that it would restore arts education funding over the next several years and treat art as a “core” subject. This renewed focus on arts education includes an emphasis on professional development and recruiting teachers who can integrate the arts into a standards-based curriculum. Gabriella is uniquely positioned to ensure LA’s teachers have the training and resources they need to successfully implement dance programs in schools across LA, benefiting tens of thousands of children in the years to come.

This grant would enable us to launch a comprehensive teacher training program with two strands – one for experienced dancers hired to teach dance enrichment classes at K-8 public schools and after-school programs, and one to train certified K-8 teachers who are not experienced dancers in ways to integrate dance elements into their daily curriculum. In addition to disseminating our award-winning curriculum for use in other schools, we will offer teacher training workshops, web-based resources and interactive support including (low-tech) videos with “demo lessons,” and establish a hub for high-quality dance education in LA.

As LAUSD has recognized, high-quality arts education for children “increases test scores across every subject area, lowers dropout rates and helps close achievement and opportunity gaps for students of color and students from low-income families; . . . increases average daily attendance and student enrollment; [and] . . . young adults of low socioeconomic status (SES) . . . earn better grades, demonstrate higher rates of college enrollment, achieve higher GPA scores, develop greater self-esteem and exhibit higher levels of civic involvement.” ( In short, dance education will benefit everyone in LA.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

“I can’t tell you how much this program and everything it stands for means to me. . . . I learned to love, I learned to cope, I learned to express myself, and most importantly, I learned to BE. I am much more confident now that I know what dancing is and what it brings to me. I am infinitely grateful!” -- Sandy Vasquez, 18 (Everybody Dance! participant; current UCLA Regents’ Scholar double-majoring in Chicano Studies and English)

Everybody dance! is the largest dance program in Los Angeles providing sequential, long-term dance training to inner-city children. Our program’s achievements have been highlighted in the Los Angeles Times, Dance Magazine, People Magazine, Biography Magazine, California Lawyer Magazine, Family Circle Magazine and on multiple television and radio stations. Our faculty of professional dancers has been described by the Los Angeles Times as "some of the best children's dance instructors in the world.”

The dance program has opened doors for our students, enabling them to win prestigious awards and scholarships to acclaimed dance schools and academic institutions, including Juilliard, Rock School of Ballet, Kirov Academy of Ballet and summer programs at American Ballet Theater, San Francisco Ballet, and Bolshoi Ballet. Some of our alumni are now using their training to become professional dancers with companies such as the Los Angeles Ballet, Vox Dance Theatre and Complexions Contemporary Ballet in NYC.

Gabriella Charter School was honored at the 19th Annual California Charter Schools Conference in 2012 with the Hart Vision Award for Charter School of the Year as an innovator and leader among charter schools statewide. GCS received the Music Center’s 2011 BRAVO Program Award, which honors educators and schools for their commitment to delivering exemplary arts education in both visual and performing arts. Our faculty and staff are frequently invited to give presentations at universities, arts institutions and national conferences, such as the Colburn School of Performing Arts, UCLA, the Delta Kappa Gamma XI Education Conference (an educational honor society for school leaders and teachers), the California Charter School Summit and the National Dance Education Organization’s Annual Conference.

We believe our dance program is directly responsible for our school’s academic success as well: In 2010, the California Department of Education (“CDE”) awarded Gabriella Charter School the Title I Academic Achievement Award, recognizing significant academic achievement by disadvantaged students who had doubled the academic targets set for them by the CDE for two consecutive years. GCS also received six-year accreditation (the highest possible) from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which sited GCS as a “model school for any number of schools wishing to get high academics in a predominantly low-income and underserved community.” (WASC Self Study Visiting Committee Report, April 2010.)

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Working with our primary partner, LAUSD, our teacher training program will be highly collaborative and build on existing partnerships. The following are just a few illustrative examples of our current partners:

• Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (dance classes for their students) and Pueblo Nuevo Development (rent-free studios in Pico-Union) • LA County Arts Commission (teacher professional development) and The Annenberg Foundation (Alchemy Program) • Skirball Cultural Center, Staples Center Foundation, UCLA, Music Center of Los Angeles, Marat Daukayev School of Ballet and more (tickets for students to attend performances) • Benjamin Millepied, Contra Tiempo Urban Latino Dance Theater and BODYTRAFFIC (free master classes for our students)

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

“WOW!...We were all so impressed and magnificently entertained by your talented and gifted multi-age dancers. . . . (T)he strength and variety of dance training you masterfully provide was clearly evident. . . . You confirm the rumors I have heard, that you are a remarkable organization, based on high expectations, rigor and consistent results.” -- LAUSD Local Superintendent Richard Alonzo, 2008.

Currently, Dr. Tiffany Berry, Research Associate Professor in the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences at Claremont Graduate University and Associate Director at Claremont Evaluation Center, is conducting a year-long independent evaluation of our dance programs to assess outcomes and strengthen in-house evaluation capacity. That evaluation is expected to be completed this summer, and will certainly inform development of teacher training workshops. Throughout our organization’s 13 year history we have collected extensive data:

• Parents and students are surveyed annually to gather input on program impact (emotional, academic and physical) and to assess programmatic strengths and weaknesses. • Parent feedback also is collected at quarterly parent meetings (preceded by popular parent dance classes). • Teachers and staff participate in extensive collaborative planning time and professional development, providing feedback to program leaders and one another about curriculum, student progress and program efficacy.
• Both school-based and after-school dance instructors administer dance skills tests and written tests and complete formal studio observations to determine students’ improvement in dance skills and achievement of standards and programmatic goals and objectives (terminology, social skills/behavior, etc.)

As we scale up capacity of the teacher training program, we ultimately will seek funding for a formal evaluation of the teacher training program and tracking of outcomes at participants’ schools, though in the interim, during the term of this grant, we will survey teacher participants (pre-, post- and follow-up) regarding the efficacy of our workshops, materials and impact on their students.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

“Elementary instruction designated specifically for dance . . . is fast becoming an endangered species.” – Erik W. Robelen, “No Obituary Needed for Arts Education, Study Reveals.” Education Week, April 11, 2012 (summarizing federal study on K-12 arts education).

While the LA2050 report notes the relative strength of the arts in LA currently, a critical weakness is identified in the programs (or lack thereof) provided in our public elementary and middle schools. Even in schools that have managed to retain some visual arts or music programs in the face of debilitating cuts to arts education budgets, the overwhelming majority of students in grades K-8 in LAUSD today receive no exposure to dance. The LA2050 report notes that as of 2011, LAUSD employed only 250 full-time elementary school arts teachers – for more than 600 elementary schools. We know that few, if any of these, are dance instructors. The U.S. Department of Education recently reported that while 94% of elementary schools offered music and 83% offered visual arts in the 2009-10 school year, only 3% offered dance. ( LAUSD’s own Arts at the Core Resolution acknowledged the District’s current “inequality and opportunity gap” in arts education for youth in our City, where students in parts of the District attend schools that raise private funds to provide arts experiences for their students, while schools with predominantly Title I students have no such resources. We aim to change that.

The positive impact of dance on learning and psycho-social development has been widely documented in academic research. Dance activities support the development of fluency, originality and critical thinking skills (Deasey, 2002), improve test scores, school attendance, responsibility, self-discipline, and — just as importantly – an understanding of delayed gratification and work ethic (Brooks Schmitz, 1990b). Dance helps combat the epidemic of childhood obesity and helps counter the impact of lack of park access for our children (as reported in LA2050, just 33% of children in LA live within ¼ mile of a park, compared to 91% in NYC and 65% in San Diego). “[The] odds of being overweight or obese increased relative to lower household income levels, less neighborhood access to parks and sidewalks, lower levels of physical activity, and more time spent watching TV or on the computer. Black and Latino children had higher rates of obesity and greater chances of being overweight than their non-Latino white counterparts, after researchers adjusted for socioeconomic and behavioral factors, and state of residence.” (“A New Map of Childhood Obesity in the U.S.,” L.A. Times, May 3, 2010.)

Expanding opportunities for children in LA to engage in quality dance education will not only impact the future of the Arts & Cultural Vitality in LA, but directly impact Education (thereby also improving Income & Employment), Health, and Social Connectedness in our City.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

“Every education system in the world has the same hierarchy of subjects. There isn't an education system in the world that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics . . . . Why? Why not? Children dance all the time. We all have bodies. As children grow up, we start to teach them only from the waist up.” -- Sir Ken Robinson, 2006 TED Conference Presentation

Our vision is that each and every child in LA is provided equitable access to developing the skills and habits of mind that will enable success in our 21st century society. Beyond simple mastery of skills in English, math and other subject areas, today’s rapidly changing world demands that the workforce of tomorrow be prepared to face challenges we cannot predict today. The pace of technological development and information exchange is unprecedented in human history, and skills that were essential just a generation ago have become obsolete. Critical thinking, problem-solving, analytical skills and creativity will be more important for this generation than any in recent history. As the highly acclaimed author and speaker Sir Ken Robinson has noted, “Creativity is not some exotic, optional extra. It's a strategic issue." (Ken Robinson, Fast Company, July 5, 2011.)

We believe – we know – that through dance and other arts, children are able to experience true joy in the learning process, building on their inherent curiosities and desire to be active learners. While we are quite proud that some of our students have gone on to excel in programs with some of the nation’s top professional dance companies, our primary goal is to use dance and the arts as a means of engaging all children in becoming self-confident, hard-working, disciplined and motivated to excel across all areas of their lives. Throughout our history we have demonstrated through our school-based, after-school and community programs that exposure to quality dance education can have a lifelong impact on some of our City’s most “at-risk” children. Students who will never become professional dancers, but who will benefit from the life lessons our program imparts: the value of perseverance in the face of setbacks, the ability to see the connection between hard work and results, and a willingness to push oneself past self-imposed limits.

By making our curriculum, assessments, program structure and expert faculty available to train other teachers across LA, our vision for LA2050 is that all children in Los Angeles will have the opportunity to discover previously unknown talents, be inspired, and find a sense of belonging.

“Everybody dance! helped me unleash not only troubled emotions as a child but helped me grow both mentally and emotionally. . . . [A]s cliché as it sounds I really don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing if I had not found out my talent and passion is dancing . . . .” – Amaris Jacobs, 18, Pasadena City College student