When I came to Dartmouth four years ago, I expected to learn a lot through my classes, my major, my clubs and activities. But I never expected that some of the most powerful learning I’d experience would take place in other schools—in elementary and middle schools throughout the Upper Valley. Becoming involved with START (Students Teaching in the Arts)—a program where Dartmouth student volunteers visit Upper Valley classrooms to enhance learning with arts integration—has opened a unique path of experiential learning for me: one of leadership, communication skills, and collaboration both with my fellow Dartmouth classmates and the grade school students.
I began volunteering with START my freshman winter and continued participating in it each term since. This year, I have had the privilege of interning with the program and introducing other Dartmouth students to this tremendous opportunity for learning and service.
In START, student volunteers enhance curriculum in first-through-eighth grade classrooms all around the Upper Valley, through projects that inspire creative thinking and integrate every conceivable form of music, dance, theater and visual arts. The projects take place over six weekly classroom visits each term. The volunteers can be from any undergraduate class.
START volunteers don’t teach the assigned academic subject, per se—but rather use the arts as a framework to solidify concepts, explore ideas and discover alternative approaches to learning. Using their voices, their bodies and their creative thinking, the volunteers guide their students to collaborate in unique ways, understand and share different perspectives and truly experience learning where there is no set right or wrong answers.
Each term, the volunteers are placed in groups of two or three to develop and teach original and thoughtful arts integration projects in specific Upper Valley classrooms, on a variety of subjects. Past classroom subjects have included math, STEM, history, South American culture, astronomy and poetry and have taken place at the Ray School (Hanover, NH), the Ottauquechee School (Hartford, VT), Hartford (VT) Memorial Middle School, Marion Cross School (Norwich, VT), Plainfield (NH) School and others.
This term, we have volunteers placed in four classrooms: fifth grade, covering the subject of engineering, at Sharon (VT) Elementary School; second grade, addressing Westward Expansion, at Crossroads Academy (Lyme, NH), first grade, looking at outer space, at Hanover Street School (Lebanon, NH), and second/third grade, covering fractions at Mid-Vermont Christian School (Quechee, VT).
To participate in START, Dartmouth students apply and are interviewed and accepted into the program. Since START volunteers come from all backgrounds (both arts and non-arts), we have them go through a training process each term to gain a better understanding of what arts integration is and how to best apply it, as well as to learn skills in classroom management and activity planning. As the START Senior Intern, I lead these training sessions.
From there, the volunteer groups meet with each of their teachers, the START staff (Hop Outreach Coordinator Mary Gaetz and me) and each other as they plan their first visits. Then the weekly classroom visits begin! After each visit they do a reflection, and we meet with them twice a term to observe the classroom and give feedback. At the end of the term is a reflection dinner, where each group gives a brief presentation on how their classroom went throughout the term.
START is just getting STARTed this term—the volunteers are currently meeting with their teachers and the START staff—but we look forward to following the volunteers and their classrooms this term!