Published on May 4, 2020 | SILIVE
Madison L’Insalata, right, Miss Staten Island 2020 and PS 65students. (Courtesy/Madison L’Insalata) Staten Island Advance
Updated Apr 24, 2020; Posted Apr 23, 2020
By Carol Ann Benanti | firstname.lastname@example.org
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Sundog Theatre, a performing arts organization based on Staten Island that provides music, dance, theater, art, and literacy classes to more than 40 schools in New York City, helps make learning come alive in performance spaces in theaters, schools, parks, churches, colleges, museums, zoos and cultural centers.
As of March 16, when city schools were forced to shut down and more than 60,000 Staten Island public school students began learning while sheltering at home, Sundog Theatre staffers acted quickly and devised a way to provide arts classes online.
They contacted their approximately 30 teaching artists in the borough and throughout the city to make sure they were ready to deliver classes as quickly as possible. The organization wanted to ensure artists were able to continue to make a living, as well as keep the continuity of classes going.
“Sundog’s teaching artists make their livings as professional artists and arts teacher and some also work for the hospitality industry, professions that were virtually decimated by the shutdown,” explained Susan Fenley, Sundog’s executive director.
“Despite their own odds, they came through in this rough situation. They did what artists do — saved the day through their art and creativity. Some said that continuing to teach helped their own wellbeing.”
Since the decision to close schools was made so rapidly, time was of the essence.
“We had about a week to deliver,” Fenley added. “Some of our arts education classes last through the end of the school year. Others were only just beginning.”
The Sundog deadline was self-imposed.
Schools had all they could handle with transferring their own lessons online and making sure students and teachers knew how to manage new learning methods. Sundog wanted to ensure minimal class disruption and make it easy for schools to continue arts education.
One by one, principals welcomed the addition of arts classes to their online curriculum. Sundog teaching artists provided remote classes ranging from dance that could be done in a living room and visual arts lessons with household items, to literacy-through-theatre that included puppet shows and vocabulary quizzes.
The artists filmed and taught from their homes.
One Sundog teaching artist, Madison L’Insalata, even brought her dog into the videos as a visitor that captivated young viewers. L’Insalata, a professional performer who graduated from LaGuardia High and NYU’s Tisch arts program is also Miss Staten Island 2020, teaches choral music and dance.
Madison, who teaches first and second graders, came on board in January and is educating students in the Bridge Preparatory Charter School located on the campus of the Petrides complex. The school was originally created for children with dyslexia and other disabilities but mainly reading disabilities — it’s believed having the arts interwoven into the student’s curriculum is a beneficial learning tool.
Says L’Insalata, “During this time of social distancing, people are turning to art, music, books, movies, television, and dance to get them through, while most if not all of students’ arts programs have been suspended. It’s been beautiful to see art teachers of all varieties across Staten Island, in response, continuing to offer classes virtually. Our city may be at a pause right now, but art, as it always does, has persevered. Art gives us a sense of community. Like the rainbows we’ve been seeing on front doors, it brings us joy, and it teaches us about ourselves and the world. Students deserve to have an education integrated and flourishing with art all the time, but especially right now.”
Fenley sums it up: “Sundog uses the arts to help make education come alive. And because people turn to the arts and creative activities during times of trouble, Sundog is doing its best to provide remote arts learning opportunities for as many children as possible. Not only do the arts educate creatively, they boost spirits and keep people creating.”