Township creates safe space for visual, performing arts

Survey shows district students prize such classes

The COVID-19 pandemic caused students to miss out on their visual and performing arts classes, but teachers in Washington Township spent the summer creating a safe way to get students back to class.

“It took an incredible amount of time,” said Casey Corigliano, supervisor of Visual & Performing Arts at the Washington Township School District. “[Teachers] were all burnt out and exhausted, but they realized it was super important because that’s where they got the most feedback from students. That kind of energy is what keeps a lot of art educators going.

“This is what we need to do.”

The township plans to reopen all visual and performing arts classes this fall as normally as possible. Classes include art, choir, dance and music, and they will look different than before the pandemic, with mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and frequent sanitization. 

Art classes will be held with students sitting in desks rather than long tables, and most of the work will use materials students can keep that will be untouched by others. Any materials shared will be sanitized frequently by staff.

“We are planning to offer all of our ‘normal’ classes that we would have offered prior to COVID. We are just chasing the ‘how,’” Corigliano said. “So much of what we do in art class or a performance-based class is putting on an art show or a performance. We just had to rethink how we were going to do that while dealing with all the social-distancing strategies.”

Based on research done by the University of Colorado, the district created guidelines that include the importance of mask wearing for instrumentalists as well as masking their instruments. 

It was suggested that dance classes take place outside with social  distancing, but if classes are proceeding inside, the research suggests,  students should take 30-minute breaks to ventilate the classrooms.

The guidelines have helped shape the upcoming classes in Washington Township.

“(University of Colorado) are tracking speaking, what happens to the aerosol when you’re singing or playing an instrument,” Corigliano explained. “What they found is that singing or playing with a mask on, and masking your instrument, greatly reduces the amount of aerosol spread. Singing at a light or low volume is no different than talking.”

Band and music students will get special masks with holes to allow them to play their instruments in a classroom setting. The instruments that excrete air particles will also have a covering at least two layers thick to prevent the spread of germs.

Technology will be another large part of school programs because of hybrid and remote learning. Students may often be asked to record themselves singing or playing instruments during their remote learning days, and teachers will use those recordings to grade and teach students as well as create virtual concerts. 

”We will record them live from the classroom with both cohorts, take the videos from students at home and piece it together into one video,”Corigliano noted. “That takes an enormous amount of work. Our teachers are not tech experts and they are learning as they go. We think if we focus on a piece here and there it will be more manageable for everybody.”

The district has worked hard to make arts classes available to students because, like sports, they are critical for social and emotional health. Students took surveys about the school year that indicated arts classes  and activities were what they missed most. 

“We are dealing with an ever-changing environment. Schools around us are going remote left and right,” Corigliano said. “We still have to be able to provide that outlet for them. It doesn’t have to be another thing you can’t do because of COVID.

“For the educators, we know how important the arts are to us as people. We have all made it our life mission to give that back so others can share that,” Corigliano added. “We … know not every kid that comes through the program is going to do it professionally. That’s not the goal.

“We are trying to train lifelong advocates for the arts.”

The district is still deciding how extracurricular activities such as drama are going to function. The main focus has been on classes offered during school. But Corigliano noted that certain elements could be virtual,  including scenes and backdrops being created on computers and students recording their scenes and lines to put it all together.