District 97 will partner with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to bring a dance program to elementary school classrooms for the 2007-2008 school year.
Beye, Mann, Irving, Whittier and Longfellow schools will host the program, which integrates dance and movement into classroom curriculum subjects such as math, reading and science.
Hubbard Street Dance, a 30-year-old performance arts company, has had similar programs in the Chicago Public Schools for the last decade.
Movement as Partnership is one of the dance company's education and community outreach initiatives, and this will be a first for Oak Park schools.
The program is partially funded through a $55,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and by Hubbard Street Dance and Dist. 97.
The five elementary schools will start with reading in as many as four classrooms, grades 2-5. Students learning about words will be instructed by teachers to demonstrate through their own movement what they think the word means. Students, with guidance from their teachers, can improvise their own movements.
The program's goal is to encourage students to think critically about what they're studying, and enhance their learning skills, said Kathryn Humphreys, director of education and community programs for Hubbard Street.
"If they're studying a word like 'powerful,' they may think of something like a tiger or elephant and try to demonstrate that through movement, but there are multiple dimensions of words. Something gentle can also be powerful."
The program also uses dance techniques and terminology to let students express themselves, she noted.
Before the program kicks off in the classroom, participating teachers attend a professional development workshop with instructors from the dance company. The Dist. 97 teachers' workshop takes place next week from Aug. 20-22. The teachers themselves will receive instruction on aspects of dance and how the arts impact classrooms and students.
Up to eight Dist. 97 teachers are expected to participate and will also attend workshops throughout the year.
Irving Principal John Hodge said his school will launch the program in one fourth-grade classroom, which has 20 students, age 10.
"When this opportunity came up, I knew it was something we wanted to be a part of," he said. "It will make the curriculum more accessible to our students. It's one more way to learn something."
The program includes a 10-week classroom residency by Hubbard Street 2, Hubbard Street's second performing dance company. Hubbard Street 2 will give performances at the elementary schools and at Millennium Park.
Humphreys, an Oak Park resident, said the dance company routinely runs programs in 25 schools each year and had been wanting to expand to surrounding urban and suburban areas. She said this particular program was unique because it doesn't teach specific movements, but allows students to develop their own moves.
"There's no set curriculum. We have a certain way of thinking about dance but every school is different and children are different," she said.
It also differs, Humphreys added, from other after-school or extra-curricular dance activities because it takes place in the classroom.
"After school is a different animal and a different mindset," she said. "Having it during the school day and in their classroom creates a whole other opportunity for students to learn."