The PAC has a long tradition of supporting their School-Time Performance Series with in-school residency work that places independent teaching artists in classrooms to provide arts-based, integrated lesson plans for elementary and middle school children.

Similarly, Janis Astor del Valle, Assistant Professor of Practice in Arts Management, Purchase College, has an established AIE Practicum program that brings her students into schools to share arts education practice with regional youth.

It took the challenges of the pandemic and the need to find new, virtual ways to engage with regional teachers and school-age students for the synergy between the two programs to become apparent, and a new partnership was born.

This spring, building on a pilot program launched in the fall of 2020, 15 students in Astor del Valle’s Arts-in-Education Practicum class spent six weeks virtually traveling to Hillcrest Elementary School in Peekskill, New York, which is one of The PAC’s long-term school partners. Under the guidance of Astor del Valle and Ian Driver, The PAC’s Education and Engagement Manager, the students worked with the 5th-grade dual-language community at Hillcrest, creating and implementing arts-based lesson plans.

They named their program StorySeekers! The interactive lessons were designed to teach critical literacy, storytelling, theater, and creative writing. They consisted of arts and literacy-based activities that encouraged mentorship interaction between the two sets of students and analyzed curriculum connections. Although the classes were held virtually, all involved a physical warmup, improvisatory word games, and structured writing activities within small breakout groups, leading to the final writing of their stories.

The project culminated with an in-person celebration, and a presentation of concrete evidence of the group’s efforts – a bound book of the students’ stories. The book was designed by Katie Sidari, a Purchase student who also happened to be taking a book-binding course this semester, and translated into Spanish by Darlyn Villalona.

Academic engagement through the arts, hands-on learning experiences, opportunities for mentorship, conversations about college awareness – StorySeekers! provided unique and memorable experiences for both sets of students. The challenges posed by this highly unusual school year set the stage for this partnership, and StorySeekers! is sure to serve as a model for collaborative arts-in-education practice for years to come.

The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College is proud to be a grantee of ArtsWestchester with funding made possible by Westchester County Governemnt with the support of County Executive George Latimer.