“While the arts can be put on the back burner or cancelled all together at moments like this, the Fine and Applied Arts team at Brilla is finding new ways to reach scholars,” said Brilla College Prep Elementary School dance teacher Ms. Nicole Bryant. When asked why she thinks Brilla has continued instruction in the Fine and Applied Arts (FAA) while buildings are closed, she alluded to the mission statement: Brilla Public Charter Schools, K-8 schools in the classical tradition, help students to grow intellectually, socially, and physically into young men and women of good character and spirit, and to be prepared for excellence in high school, college, and beyond. The work of Ms. Bryant and the rest of the FAA team is a striking example of how Brilla’s mission comes to life both in-person and remotely.
The Fine and Applied Arts program (consisting of music, visual arts, dance, and martial arts) helps scholars to grow intellectually, socially and physically. These subjects also provide opportunities for scholars to grow in knowledge and appreciation of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, which are important pillars of an education in the classical tradition. Given the arts’ importance to the mission of the school, the FAA teachers across the network worked to continue them while remote. Ms. Bryant shared, “We wanted to continue giving our scholars the best content we possibly could. We knew the time of closure would be challenging for our scholars, so we wanted to create activities that would help them stay physically and mentally healthy.” Working with Chief Academic Officer Mr. Mike Carbone, Ms. Bryant and the other FAA teachers developed daily asynchronous activities that are posted on the Brilla website. Additionally, they decided to offer regularly-scheduled content-specific Zoom classes. Ms. Bryant told me that it took creativity and cooperation, but she is proud of her team’s work.
Ingenuity and collaboration are nothing new for our Fine and Applied Arts team. When Ms. Bryant started at Brilla in the Fall 2013, she taught cotillion dance to the school’s founding cohort of first graders and kindergarteners. Having danced her whole life but not an expert in cotillion, Ms. Bryant quickly learned. Her first showcase at the October Costume Carnival was a hit and made her want to continue improving her craft. When the school year finished, she left Brilla to get a master’s degree in dance education. While in graduate school, Ms. Bryant learned about two different approaches to dance education: one whose primary focus was to create an excellent product and the other whose primary focus was to incorporate movement into students’ schedules. Her desire to blend both approaches eventually led her back to Brilla in 2016. Three years later, the school was bigger and more well-known, but the innovative spirit of the staff remained. She and her colleagues who taught music, martial arts, and visual arts met with school leaders to discuss ways to collaborate in order to give scholars an integrated education in the arts. It was then that they decided to name the program the Fine and Applied Arts. During the time of closure, the FAA team worked with many other teams across the network in order to continue delivering their program. “It truly takes a village,” Ms. Bryant shared on behalf of the FAA team. “There are so many people we want to give shout-outs to: Mrs. Fernandez, for helping us advertise our Zoom classes on ClassTag and social media, the Admin Team for supporting us, Mr. Carbone for guiding us. I can go on and on. We are so grateful.”
With Brilla’s founding cohort entering eighth grade, Ms. Bryant hopes many scholars will go on to study the arts in high school, college, and beyond. But even if scholars don’t go on to study the arts professionally, Ms. Bryant and her team know that their work has accomplished its principle function of nurturing the mind, body, and spirit of scholars.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danielle Schirripa is Special Projects Manager of the Brilla School Network. In her role, she assists the Executive Director in establishing systems and processes for Brilla’s external communication and fundraising. She studied Mathematics and Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Originally from Boston, MA, she enjoys spending time at the beach and watching the Red Sox.