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The Harvard Crimson: March 15th, 2006

CityStep Strives to Survive as Testing Stressed

CityStep—a program that brings together Harvard undergraduates and Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) students—has recently revised its program in order to provide a more academic approach to teaching dance, as the school system increases its emphasis on standardized test results. 

CityStep members teach dance skills and promote self-confidence in fifth through seventh grade classes for two 45-minute blocks each week at participating schools. 

However, some CPS officials noted that problems can arise when programs cut into the normal school day. They said that the number of elementary schools applying to host the program has dropped from seven or eight to two or three within the last few years. 

“It’s not that people don’t appreciate or understand the importance of this, but the time during the school day seems to be really compressed and crunched,” said CPS Coordinator for K-12 Visual and Performing Arts Judith Contrucci. “There are so many demands.” 

According to Contrucci, some of these demands include preparing children for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests in light of the No Child Left Behind Act signed by President Bush in 2002. 

CityStep members said that they have stepped up the academic component of the dance program this year. 

“We definitely want CityStep to respond to the needs of Cambridge Public Schools children,” said CityStep Executive Director Russell L. Graney ’07. 

According to CityStep Executive Producer Geoffrey S. Johnston ’07, a heavier emphasis is now placed on teaching students dance terminology and applying that knowledge to journal entries and creative projects. 

One example he cited was a Thanksgiving-season project in which students choreographed a turkey dance using terms such as “oppositional motion” and “fluid motion.” 

“Kids are able to address dance at a more cerebral level,” said Johnston, which he said leads to a “more complex understanding for dance as an art form.” 

Marla Perez-Selles, principal of the Amigos School, which is situated several blocks southeast of Mather House, said that the program is popular with her students. 

“The kids come back to the school energetic,” she said. “They come back with a different perspective.” 

School Committee member Alfred B. Fantini said that CityStep’s future role in the city’s schools “hasn’t come to a policy level yet.” 

Graney said that the group was looking ahead and seeking to secure its longterm relationship with CPS. 

“We’re not reacting to situations in Cambridge Public Schools, but we’re looking ahead to challenges that lie before CityStep and trying to work with our contacts in Cambridge Public Schools to preemptively respond,” he said. 

While acknowledging the importance of standardized test results, Fantini, who was first elected to the School Committee in 1981 and has served longer than any other member, said that there was more to education than test results. 

“I always think of the CityStep program as something that does a great job with our kids and it provides a lot of happiness in the schools,” he said. “Every single program you have in the system can’t be focused on the MCAS. You have to focus on the whole child, and this is where I would categorize the CityStep program.”

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