Students learn life skills through the arts
Rehearsal for real life.
That’s how Jennifer Cimino – who studied music and theater and is involved in music ministry at Christ the King, St. Pius X and St. Frances Cabrini parishes in Omaha – describes the value of performing arts education in Catholic schools.
Through a program she founded called "On Cue," Cimino this year is helping children at All Saints School in Omaha develop skills that will benefit them for a lifetime – by planning, staging, promoting and presenting a play, scheduled for May 3.
The program involves students in public speaking and writing, and it helps them develop empathy and the ability to see other people’s point of view, Cimino said.
Designed for Catholic schools lacking the resources to offer performing arts, On Cue is open to expanding next year to other schools in low-income neighborhoods, Cimino said.
"Catholic schools are looking to educate the entire child in a well-rounded way, by addressing the gifts they might not otherwise develop, tapping into and celebrating all of God’s gifts," she said.
Cimino is not alone in understanding the value of performing arts. Teachers at other schools in the archdiocese – including Audrey Freeman of Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Hartington, Carol Vogel of Howells Community Catholic School in Howells and Michelle Delisi of Marian High School in Omaha – also see long-term benefits.
So does Patrick Slattery, superintendent of Catholic schools.
"Students learn skill sets that so many people can use," Slattery said, "enhancing their ability to present themselves well in public. That’s a life skill that’s quite valuable."
FINDING THEIR NICHE
And those skills can be developed through a variety of opportunities, said Freeman, social sciences teacher and director of Cedar Catholic’s annual one-act play.
Cedar Catholic, for example, offers the fall performance, which each year is entered into state competition, plus speech, chorus, dance, band and a spring play, she said.
Hannah Rembert, a senior and member of Holy Family Parish in Bow Valley, said benefits from her involvement in choir, band and speech include building relationships with teachers and other students.
"In choir and band, you have to work as a team to get the best sound possible, so team building is very valuable," she said. "That’s a skill I’ll be able to use later in life."
And in a school of about 130 students, Freeman said, "we have a wide variety of kids participating in all our activities. They get to experiment with different things to see what they like and don’t like. I had 63 students participate in the play."
"We have students from all different backgrounds coming together to make something awesome happen," Freeman said, "so it creates its own sense of community."
Blase Rokusek, a senior and member of Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington who participates in the one-act play, band and choir, said he enjoys the camaraderie and teamwork.
"It’s great being part of something bigger than yourself and working together with others," he said.
SUPPORTING STUDENTS’ FAITH
And education through the arts can take on a faith dimension.
At Cedar Catholic, each class gets an opportunity to plan and sing at a weekly school Mass, Freeman said. The school’s choir sings at Masses in surrounding parishes, and students serve as cantors.
The performing arts – especially music and speech – also support faith at Howells Community Catholic School, said Vogel, head teacher at the school.
Each grade takes a turn participating in school Masses, reading Scripture and petitions, serving at the altar and presenting the gifts before the offertory, Vogel said.
And during Catholic Schools Week – this year Jan. 29 through Feb. 4 – sixth-graders will present "The Wax Museum" where they portray various saints, standing motionless until a student puts a ticket in their bucket to activate the student’s commentary about the saint.
Speaking skills are reinforced in other classes, as well, Vogel said. "At various times, teachers will have students act out one of their reading stories in class," she said.
"Speaking or singing in front of a group is a life skill that helps build confidence," Vogel said, "and speaking skills are something one will always need in any kind of job."
FINDING HIDDEN TALENTS
The performing arts also allow students to explore talents they might not know they have, said Delisi, a dance and drama teacher at Marian High. And they develop time management skills, self-confidence and camaraderie, and demonstrate commitment through hard work, she said.
Rachael Brich, a junior and member of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, said her participation in theater productions and the school’s choirs help her organize her time.
"I have to stay focused all the time and really pay attention in class because I don’t have a lot of time after school for study," she said. "And the teachers are more than helpful since they know how busy I am."
Delisi said each theatrical production expands a student’s knowledge, by requiring them to memorize lines, learn dance steps, build sets and plan the lighting.
In addition to the fall musical and spring play, the school’s performing arts curriculum and extra-curricular offerings include dance, music and pantomime, Delisi said.
"I think the arts are really important and give students a different outlook and perspective on their education. They see that there’s more than just math, science, English and religion classes," she said.
And it is rewarding to see how students grow through their participation in theater, Delisis said.
"I love to see where they start, and then to see the final product. It’s so exciting and it just gives me so much satisfaction."