When the 2011 State Teachers of the Year visited the Department of Education in May, we asked them if they had solutions to challenges in the areas of teacher effectiveness, healthy schools and parent and community engagement. For Alaska Teacher of the Year Lorrie Heagy, the answer was an enthusiastic “yes!”—and she sent video footage to prove it.
At Ms. Heagy’s school, Glacier Valley Elementary in Juneau, Alaska, the music teacher, physical education teacher, school counselor and librarian have teamed up to create an arts-integrated class where students learn ballroom dancing. The teachers collaborate with a dance instructor from the local state university to provide instruction in five dances. As a result of this collaboration, students are more physically active, learn to work as a team, and develop and polish new social skills—all through dance.
More than 200 students participated in the integrated unit and showcased their dance moves at a school assembly. Then, students competed to represent Glacier Valley on the “HeART & Sole” dance team at the Juneau-Douglas High School Dance Team Spring Show. Glacier Valley’s 24-member team received a standing ovation for their dance routine, which incorporated the waltz, tango, merengue, swing, foxtrot and electric slide (watch video from the show here or below).
Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.
Initially funded several years ago through the U.S. Department of Education’s Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP), Glacier Valley offers the eight-week ballroom dance class for its 3rd-5th graders twice a week. According to Ms. Heagy, “The arts not only engage students, but also revitalize teachers, make school inviting for parents, and involve community members in meaningful ways.” The program has had such a powerful impact on Glacier Valley students that former students hope to return to help coach next year’s team. Local businesses and the school’s parent association have stepped up to continue funding the ballroom dance unit for the past five years.
Glacier Valley is one of many examples of schools and districts finding innovative ways to promote and integrate physical activity and nutrition into school programming. Whether it’s PEP grantees in Covington, Ky., sponsoring fitness field trips and active family fun nights, or in Telluride, Colo., constructing ropes courses for outdoor fitness challenges, schools across the United States are finding ways to engage both students and their communities and promote active, healthy lifestyles.
– Aurora H. Steinle is a Special Advisor to the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Secretary at the Department of Education