As the coronavirus pandemic began to affect communities around the world, teachers across the globe faced the challenge of how to teach children without being in the same classroom. It was no different for those involved with the Cathedral Arts Project’s (CAP) visual and performing arts afterschool programs. But because of the collaborative efforts of teachers, administrative staff, funders and other partners, CAP was able to quickly pivot to virtual instruction.
In mid-March, within a matter of days, our administrative staff and full-time teaching artist fellows converted classrooms to virtual platforms for theatre, dance, strings and art therapy. Virtual learning guidelines were created to empower CAP teaching artists to produce professional and creative at-home instruction. These guidelines outlined best practices for video content and creation, virtual classroom management and resources for creating and maintaining a virtual classroom.
Using a variety of platforms, including YouTube, Google Classroom, Zoom and Instagram, teaching artists created content and met virtually with their students to ensure they continued to receive a quality arts education. In addition to weekly videos and virtual office hours, teaching artists also created and implemented content to keep students and their families engaged outside of class hours, including online quizzes to reinforce the CAP Student Creed, an Instagram account dedicated to mental health, and a weekly art-as-therapy newsletter for families of students with specialized needs.
Select class videos were available to the general public who wished to learn about musical theatre, follow along with a dance class or benefit from the healing properties of art therapy. Class updates were routinely shared with staff, board members and the Jacksonville community who enjoyed seeing the innovative ways CAP teaching artists interacted with their students.
In addition to the ingenuity of our staff, we were fortunate to have funders who understood the need to be flexible. PNC Bank repurposed part of a grant to allow us to assemble and deliver more than 1,000 at-home art kits to Duval County Public Schools students in need. Each art kit included a sketch book, graphite and colored pencils, pencil sharpener, watercolors and paint brush, crayons and an eraser. A local art supplier helped by providing a steep discount, and our friends at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens donated supplies as well.
Though the school year is over, and things are far from “back to normal,” we are continuing with the momentum of virtual arts learning. CAP was awarded a grant from the Kids Hope Alliance to host a summer intensive program for the CAP String Orchestra, an ensemble of current and former CAP string students in grades 4 through 12. While originally designed to be an in-person program, CAP surveyed string students’ families and with the support of the funder, pivoted to create a curriculum for online instruction. CAP will now be able to serve 30 string students per week through live-streamed virtual instruction and self-paced individual and ensemble practice.
Everyone – staff, funders, partners and families – have readily seen it is more important than ever for children to be equipped to use the arts to explore and process their anxiety and other emotions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Children can’t help but notice and absorb the stress of those around them. When a child experiences the arts, even virtually, it can change their experience of life.
The driving force of CAP’s programs is the belief that the arts matter – that they provide essential skills like perseverance and teamwork. CAP is committed to working with our partners to continue providing quality arts education to as many children as possible during these unsettling times. Every child deserves the opportunity to transform their life through the arts.
Written by The Rev. Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO, Cathedral Arts Project