Performing and Visual Arts
In addition to core academic classes, Trousdale School students spend time each week in classes devoted to the arts. Students grow in their confidence to express themselves while simultaneously developing their talents through art, drama, dance, and music classes. Victor Hugo once wrote, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.” This quote embodies the importance of music in our students’ everyday lives. Sometimes our students struggle with expressing themselves verbally, but they always have a song in their hearts that can communicate their emotions and thoughts.
At Trousdale School, we tap into the students’ passion for music through various classes that occur throughout the week—choir, Health Rhythms drum circle, music theory, piano, and one-on-one singing lessons. We received a grant in 2013 that allowed us to purchase a Health Rhythms drum set. We knew the students would like the idea of playing drums, but we had no idea how much of a therapeutic outlet it would be. When we sit together during our drum circle time, our students are able to block out what is going on around them and focus on the underlying rhythm of the drum.
As a new avenue to demonstrate students’ talent, Trousdale School performed their first musical for a live audience in 2009. The performance was an instant success with over 500 family and friends in attendance. The students performed a series of simple song and dance routines to familiar songs. Many students had dreamed of being actors, actresses, singers, and dancers, but until now, they were only spectators in the audience at someone else’s show. For the first time for most of this population, these students were given their own stage and were allowed to express themselves in a way never before seen by the audience.
Since that time, we have moved locations twice and now perform annually to more than 1,400 friends and family. This has been a journey of learning for everyone. The students have surprised us each year by rising to each new challenge. Each year the numbers grow more complex and difficult. Each year we question whether they will be able to do it, and each year they demonstrate that they not only can do it, but do it very well. The musical has given our students a voice. It has given them a stage on which to perform and a way to express themselves freely. It has allowed them to live a dream. Just mention our musical to one of our students and watch the light in their eyes. They will without a doubt stop what they are doing and perform any number you request!
Visual art class has provided opportunities for students to express themselves in nonverbal ways and challenge themselves through creative problem-solving. Art has also proven to be a fun way to reinforce concepts learned in core classes, such as our recent science units on oceans and space.
Some students excel at approaching basic assignments in creative ways. Recently, one student created an evocative drawing of two arms reaching to one another across a stormy blue background, their fingertips almost touching. It was a thoughtful, deep response to a relatively simple exercise—drawing hands from observation.
Other students have discovered new abilities within themselves through art. In recent lessons involving art and movement, the students communicated thoughts and emotions through color, line, and shape. It was inspiring to watch a student, who in the past had been quiet and reserved, open up as he painted, expressing the emotion of the song through the marks of crayon and paintbrush. Another student, who typically works very quickly, demonstrated remarkable focus during this activity as he moved with the music, involving his whole body in the motion of the brushstroke and gettinglost in his own world as he painted.
Still other students have accepted the challenge to think in new ways through art. A student who is skilled in drawing realistically realized recently that she can also use abstract means to create an artwork—such as suggesting the watery surface of the planet Venus through wavy lines and shades of blue. Another student who makes many excellent drawings from her imagination recently realized through drawing from observation that sometimes appearances are deceiving. This is a counter-intuitive truth, and it takes much mental effort for artists to learn to draw what they see rather than what they know to be true. This student is pushing herself to grow by training her eyes to look carefully at the lines and shapes of the object she is drawing.
Perhaps best of all, Trousdale School students take pride in their creations, and this builds their confidence in their ability to achieve. In a recent textiles lesson, a huge grin involuntarily spread across one young man’s face as he worked. He found such joy in doing something well that he was oblivious to anything else going on in the classroom. The minute one quiet student finishes his lunch, he will make his way to the art room, excitedly inquiring about our art project for the day. Seeing the students experience joy in making art is both rewarding and encouraging for everyone involved.