Club Excellence: Immersing Scholars in the Arts and Self-Expression

Sofije Brija

The arts are a critical part of education and are key to cultivating well-rounded, happy scholars. At Excellence Community Schools we are dedicated to immersing our student body in a variety of arts programming so that they may use these creative outlets to progress and express themselves amongst their educators and peers. 

In an effort to increase the artistic exposure of our scholars, we partnered with members of A BroaderWay Foundation, an organization founded in 2010 by Idina Menzel and a group of artists and activists with the goal of magnifying the power and capabilities of young women using the arts. Through this partnership, Club Excellence was created—our educational arts program which exposes students to a variety of courses ranging from vocal music to theatre, to dance, to poetry, to tap, and more.

      This pandemic has been especially challenging for the artistic community, leaving many artists out of work with unprecedented closures, particularly within the Broadway community. Our schools seized the opportunity to have many of these professionals teach courses for Club Excellence, providing work for artists during a time when it is needed most, while simultaneously educating and enriching our scholars with a highly unique learning opportunity. Throughout the week, students participate in a series of virtual courses led by esteemed and highly talented individuals who have worked in the arts for years. These classes allow our scholars to learn, grow, connect, and express themselves at a time when these things are needed most, serving as a curriculum highlight and something to look forward to week after week. Below is a snapshot of a few of these incredible classes to give you a glimpse into the magic, joy, and creativity that is Club Excellence. 

Musical Theater:
Let your voice be heard! Musical theater combines singing, theatrics, inspiring melodies and self-expression in a way that is fun and liberating for our scholars. One of our musical theater courses is led by LaTrisa Harper, an actress, singer, and dancer who has done work for film, Broadway, and National Tours, starring in productions that include The Lion King and The Color Purple

professional headshot of Club Excellence teacher Ms. Harper

Ms. Harper began her class in the best of ways…with a dance party warmup! Scholars engaged in a series of fun, freeing exercises that helped them to focus their energy, get exercise, and have fun! 

Afterwards scholars practiced vocal warmups, including blowing out through their lips, rolling their “Rs,” and exploring musical range as they sang their way from high notes to low notes and back again. Ms. Harper had a unique application on her phone that allowed her to play the keys of a piano, and she did so while scholars sang a vocal scale. 

Next up? Tongue twisters! Scholars were full of giggles and delight as they practiced a series of tongue-twisting sentences:
 
          “Sally sells seashells by the seashore.”
          “Bubba blows bubbles by the bay.”
          “I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen.”
          “I saw four fresh fish for you.”

How quickly can you say all of these?

Following seashells and bubbles, scholars took part in a variety of unique games that helped them to tap into their creativity in new and interesting ways. A game of “Spaghetti” asked that participants act out a series of different emotions ranging from surprised, to happy, to scared, to hot, to cold. A round of “Mirror” had the class mimic the instructor’s actions which included brushing your teeth and driving a car (seatbelts on!). Games were rounded out with some high-speed “Simon Says” that had students pretend they were everything from kittens, to lions, to ice skaters and baseball players. 

Class closed out with a deep dive into a childhood favorite—Matilda the Musical! Scholars watched clips from the acclaimed musical including the songs “When I Grow Up” and “Naughty” and were asked to share their observations and practice choreography. Everyone was especially excited for this portion of the class as it allowed the entire group to experience Broadway in a setting where responses, feelings, curiosities, and creativity could be shared. This kind of exposure helps our students to tap into their own artistry and see the countless possibilities that are available to them in creative fields. It also helps them to connect to each other in a fun-filled way, during a time when distance has impacted us all.

The Experience of Acting:
Acting transports us. It moves us. It tells stories. Our scholars get to participate in all of these in The Experience of Acting—a Club Excellence course led by Tedecia Wint. Ms. Wint is an esteemed theater professional who helps individuals to maximize their focus, their creativity, and their sense of self. Her course asks that its participants step outside of themselves and learn to listen and communicate through acting, movement, and patience. 

professional headshot of Club Excellence teacher Ms. Wint

Ms. Wint opened her class with a breathing warmup, asking that scholars inhale, hold their breath, and exhale—creating an overarching sense of calm and balance. This transitioned into a movement exercise where classmates were asked to shake out their hands, legs, and entire bodies as a way to release excess energy, let loose and get ready to focus. 

Time to listen carefully and work together! Scholars were especially eager to participate in the “One to Ten” game, an exercise that asks that they randomly count to ten together without any two people saying the same number or speaking over one another—a true test of focus and determination. The class erupted in multiple cheers and squeals of delight every time the number ten was successfully reached, creating a unifying sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. 

Next was a transition to miming activities, a showcase of acting, movement, and communication skills. It was a joy watching scholars act out everything from eating a bowl of cereal to grocery shopping to lifting weights and everyone was eager to say what activities thought their fellow classmates were trying to convey. As the instructor so eloquently reminded the class:

“It doesn’t take a lot to create a tiny piece of theater.”

And theater, they created. 

Creative Movement:
Time to get moving! Movement energizes us, excites us, gets us pumped up and ready to seize the day! We know the importance of physical activity not only for physical health but for self-expression and emotional well-being. Brian Brooks’ Creative Movement class is the perfect way to get our scholars moving, grooving, and partaking in the joys of dance and music.

professional headshot of Club Excellence teacher Mr. Brooks

Brian Brooks, who leads this fun-filled course, is an esteemed dance professional, director, and choreographer. Having worked in the theater on shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar Tour and The Color Purple First National Tour, and in film and TV on projects such as Across the Universe and Boardwalk Empire, Mr. Brooks has a passion, drive, and creative magic that inspires, motivates, and excites his class time and time again. 

The class warmed up with body and hand isolations (have you ever counted down from five one finger at a time? It’s actually quite challenging!).

Next, the class broke into a choreographed routine they have been working on. This thoughtful dance incorporated both movement and emotion, as each dance move represented a different emotion ranging from freedom to fear. Energy filled every room and screen with each dance step that was performed. 

Who’s ready for a little Janet Jackson? The pace of the class changed up a bit with the introduction of a new medium—music video clips! Scholars watched, wide-eyed, as Janet Jackson sang and danced to both Rhythm Nation and The Knowledge. Scholars then shared their thoughts, feelings, and questions about each video: What is Rhythm Nation about? What emotions are displayed in each clip? What are the dancers using to unite? These questions gave way to a thoughtful and powerful conversation amongst peers, showing that dance and movement can make us not only feel, but think, wonder, and challenge ourselves.

What’s up next? The class was given their next assignment—choosing a song to choreograph a new dance to! Each scholar is to select a song, share it with the class, and then the class will vote, choreograph and perform! Scholars were especially excited for this project as it allows them to have autonomy over their creativity, a voice, and a say in their expression and sense of self. We can’t wait to see what becomes of this dance!

Club Excellence has been an inspirational, impactful, and moving program that has helped our scholars to tap into their creativity, connect with one another, and deepen their understanding of the arts and the possibilities that are available to them. We would like to thank all of the artists teaching our classes for their dedication, talent, and leadership and for introducing our scholars to new ways of thinking, feeling, and sharing. We have been overjoyed to see what each of these courses has produced—happy, expressive, thoughtful scholars—and cannot wait to see what is still to come! 

Stay creative!