Performing together, while apart: PVPA plans on ‘strong remote learning curriculum’

  • The Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

SOUTH HADLEY — As school districts grapple with the possibility of a partially or fully remote start to the school year in the fall, many teachers and administrators are working to form an effective means to remotely teach subjects including math, writing and history. At Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA), an additional consideration is how to teach dance, singing and musical instruments, which can require close collaboration with other students.

Per state requirements, PVPA created plans for a school year that is fully in-person, all remote or a hybrid of the two concepts. Those plans have been submitted as of Friday, the state’s deadline, and schools are currently awaiting feedback.

“Given our small school building with a dense student and faculty population, and students coming from over 50 towns and districts across the Valley, we know it’s just not safe for us to go back to school as normal,” said PVPA spokeswoman Charlotte Donovan. “Knowing that, we know we have to have a remote learning program, and a strong remote learning curriculum.”

Teachers tested aspects of this curriculum in the spring when schools closed down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving students, teachers and families scrambling to adjust to remote learning. For recently graduated senior Yoshi Sanders, studying the performing arts remotely posed an even greater challenge than adjusting to a virtual version of the traditional curriculum.

“It was a lot harder because at school, especially with the performing arts, there are a lot of resources that we don’t get at home,” Sanders said. “I was constantly moving my furniture around, running into stuff trying to dance at my house.”

But students and teachers were able to come together to find creative solutions, he added. Catalyst Dance Company, a student group that Sanders participated in, was weeks away from its final show when the state ordered schools to shut down. While students weren’t able to hold their final show as planned, they were able to record and edit together a virtual version of the show.

To accomplish this, the group had to individually record themselves dancing at home, often using their mobile phones, and re-imagine group choreography into a solo dance. Using Adobe Premiere Pro video editing software, which none of the students had experience with prior to the pandemic, the group created a “full, evening-length dance film,” said Felice Santorelli, the PVPA dance department leader and artistic director of Catalyst.

While remote learning brought its own challenges, Sanders said that it was also “pretty special” to complete the video project.

“Although it was disappointing to not have a senior show, we took a step back and realized we had an opportunity to explore dance through a new lens and look at the material that we were working on,” he said, “and collaborate in a new way that was only possible because of technology.”

Sanders plans to attend Vassar College in person this fall and is leaning towards a major in the social sciences, though he intends to continue to dance through the college’s student groups and programming. In the upcoming academic year, Sanders said he hopes that students at PVPA will have the resources to continue with a rich arts education amid the pandemic.

Even if learning must be offered remotely, the school will offer its full course catalog, Santorelli said.

“I believe that we’re going to be able to offer the same kind of diverse course offerings, the same kind of dance inquiry and dance training in collaborative and independent ways,” Santorelli said, “just in new ways.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.