WTS' Jamie Hebert Interviews 8-year-old Penelope Hill about the arts in schools

“They don’t have this in schools anymore”, my mother sighed. She was referring to the toy kitchen in which my 2-year old niece was engrossed at the Chino Youth Museum.

My mother, a resource aid at an elementary school in Tulare, CA wasn’t referring specifically to the tiny, wooden refrigerator stuffed with plastic fruits and vegetables, but more the idea of “play” in schools. I asked her what kids do in kindergarten and she said reading, math--basically a lot of work. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Or Cassandra a dull girl. Or Jose or Myra or Lucy.

How do the arts present themselves in the elementary schools of today? What would school be like without play? I went directly to the source. I visited a very special 8-year old friend to get the lowdown.

Jamie: I know the answer, but what is your name?
Penelope: Penelope Hill.

Jamie: What school do you attend, and what grade?
Penelope: Ivanhoe Elementary and I’m in 3rd Grade.

Jamie: What is your favorite subject in school?
Penelope: Dance.

Jamie: Lovely. What do you want to be when you grow up?
Penelope: An actor.

Jamie: What made you want to be an actor?
Penelope: My mom is an actor. I was in a movie with her…ten years ago I think.

Jamie: You were in a movie ten years ago?! I find that funny.
Penelope: No. (Laughs). It was called “Ten Years Ago” maybe.

Jamie: Oh, the play, “The Last Ten Years” you were in with your mother. I saw that. You did a lot of cartwheels Penelope.
Penelope: And bingo.

Jamie: Back to your school. What arts do you have at your school? Like, painting, music, etc.
Penelope: We have dance. Every Wednesday in the auditorium.

Dance. That must be fun.
Penelope: Yeah. My teacher is really nice. We are learning Chinese Ribbon dance soon.

Jamie: Fun. How about music? Do you learn music?
Penelope: Yep. During dance we play [music].

Jamie: You play live for the dancing?
Penelope: Uh-huh.

Jamie: Cool. What instruments do you play?
Penelope: Taiko sticks and other plain drum sticks.

Jamie: Do you have any other arts classes in school?
Penelope: We do 3-D. We draw lines in 3-D then we paint it.

Jamie: Have you ever had performers from outside your school come to do an assembly in your cafeteria?
Penelope: Auditorium. We had magic. And there were live animals. Goats and snakes…

Jamie: Oh my goodness. Did you go onstage and hold a snake?
Penelope: A corn snake. It was big, a couple of us had to hold it.

Jamie: I’m going to ask you a fun question. If you could have a dream day at school where you can do anything you want, what would it be like?

Penelope: DVD’s in school. We would watch the last Beethoven movie, or DVD’s about animals. House animals like dogs and cats, oooh, and parrots! And, a Rock-n-Roll band would come to play at school!

Jamie: Penelope, if there were no arts in school, no dance, no sketching, no performers in the auditorium, what would school be like?

Penelope: Boring. (Laughs) Only...science is fun. That would just be a plain school if you don’t have anything awesome like dance.

Jamie: What do you think is missing from your school?
Penelope: We should play Twister everyday.

Although arts are currently part of the curriculum at Ivanhoe Elementary, they could certainly be less so in the near future. In our current economic climate, arts organizations are loosing funding. Teaching artists and visiting performers may be swept out of schools’ budgets in the near future. And, without these necessary, mind opening and expressive “play” times, my niece and Penelope may well have to settle for all work and no play. And we all know what that makes.

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Season of Giving at Culver City Julian Dixon Library!

Season of Giving at Culver City Julian Dixon Library!
Photo: SBO Photography, 12/08

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