Culturally Relevant Dance Program Helps Boost Self-expression and Social-emotional Learning
In April 2021, we conducted an interview with North Chicago School District 187’s Deputy Superintendent, Oscar Hawthorne, about a modern, culturally relevant dance program they created called Rhythm. He offers his sincere appreciation to AFHK for both partnership and funding during this time.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Rhythm program?
A: Rhythm is a modern cultural dance program that initially began a year and a half ago. It was first used as a health module in the health/fitness curriculum. Another similar program, King in Me, was piloted around the same time. Last year, Rhythm was started up again in grades 3-5 at first, but then expanded to 2nd grade as well. Unfortunately, due to a drop in mentoring, the program King in Me was not able to survive. The Rhythm program continued to be successful through the pandemic, however, due to the ability to develop an online component that worked well with remote learning. It also worked nicely while using a hybrid learning system. Rhythm is a mixture of hip-hop, African, modern and jazz dance styles. There is also a social-emotional component where students can do meditation and expression as part of a cultural experience. The program is led by dance instructor Natoia Franklin, and 150 students have been served district-wide.
Q: What made you so passionate about health and wellness as an issue to tackle at your school, especially as it relates to the program?
A: We are always looking for ways to engage our students and found that students enjoy learning about who they are as individuals and connecting to a larger society. Dance has been a way for them to develop self-worth, connect to each other, and build self-talent. We wanted to give them an experience that will start young and would follow them through school. Students really enjoy dance.
Q: Why or how did your schools decide to use the grant funds on this particular program?
A: This is a program that we previously experienced success with and knew we would be able to be engage students during remote learning. It was perfect timing.
Q: What are the students and parents saying about the program?
A: The dance instructor, Natoia Franklin, says that families are very positive about the program. Parents are giving it a 3.8 on a 4–point scale. Students love the music and the outlet to be able to express themselves. One parent from AJ Katzenmeier Academy stated, “Rhythm is what my child looks forward to most when logging in online.” The students see it as a reward for their efforts and hard work.
Q: What do you believe is the biggest impact that the grant has had on your school community?
A: They really appreciate community, corporate and philanthropic partnerships, especially in communities of high need such as this one. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to have a separate set of resources for family well-being. This work must involve other partners. Our dance instructor is a contractor, and resources like AFHK are needed to offer that level of support. The biggest impact that Rhythm has had has been that it is a positive outlet that keeps students both physically engaged and excited about school.
This grant was made possible with funding from CSX.