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Goucestershire Dance Awakenings: Project 4

Awakenings in Tewkesbury

Special needs
Mainstream primary

A dance project involving pupils from Alderman Knight Special School and pupils from the nearby Tirlebrook School
A Report by the Organisers: Gloucestershire Dance
(This is the complete text of the report by Sarah Shaw; some photographs, drawings and children's writing have been omitted.)

Gloucestershire Dance was delighted to be able organise a fourth Awakenings project, this time in Tewkesbury. We are extremely grateful to the sponsors, Mencap and Mind for the financial support that made the whole event possible. Awakenings was set up as an Integrated Dance Project that involved children from The Alderman Knight Special School in Tewkesbury, working with children from the mainstream Tirlebrook School in dance workshops that took place throughout the week of June 26th - 30th 2000.

The project was extremely fortunate to have leaders for the week who had a wealth of expertise in work of this kind. A professional dancer Jasmine Pasch, was accompanied by Ian Stewart, an experienced musician, and they came to Gloucestershire from London to lead this exciting project. With their skill and caring, they used dance and music to develop and improve the skills of co-operation, trust and sensitivity between the children. These experienced practitioners empowered all the young people to listen through watching and touching, and to use movement to communicate with each other. This way of working broke down the barriers that can be caused through differences between people.

Alderman Knight School decided that the youngest three classes would be involved, that is, J1, J2 and J3. Tirlebrook School used the Year 5 class of Debbie Davies who had been closely involved in the setting up of the project, and who was Tirlebrook's link member of staff between the two schools. The timetable was carefully constructed to ensure that the young people always worked in the same groups. so enabling all the children within these groupings to get to know each other. The numbers of Tirlebrook children in each of the 3 groups were adjusted so that there was roughly the same number of each school working together in each group.

This was an extremely successful format, and as can be seen from the writings of the young people from the 2 schools at the end of the report they came to regard the pupils from the other school as new and much-valued friends. They became genuinely fond of each other as the week progressed. It was also a challenging format, especially for the pupils of Alderman Knight, for whom a lack of normal routine could be very difficult to deal with. However, they all coped remarkably well with this challenge.

The Tirlebrook children eagerly embraced the ideas given to them both in terms of the dance tasks, and also by fully integrating with the Alderman Knight pupils. It was decided as the week went on that it was unfortunate that their class teacher had not been able to be released to work fully within the project apart from on the opening Monday. It placed an extra burden on the staff that were working in the project groups, and meant that the Tirlebrook children did not have their class teacher with them. It would have been better if she could have gone through the experience with them as the integration developed during the week, and would also have given the Alderman Knight staff a chance to meet with her and discuss the progress of the work as the week progressed. However, she did take the opportunity to fully discuss the morning's work, and anticipate the afternoon session with Ian and Jasmine every lunchtime. Once these concerns were aired, Tirlebrook were able to make available a Learning Support Worker to become involved in the project, and this worked well and we would like to thank Tirlebrook for making this possible. However, despite the lack of their class teacher, the Tirlebrook children always worked hard and were a credit to themselves and their school. The Alderman Knight pupil too worked hard and with enthusiasm all week, they showed how well they could cope with new experiences, and sustain this interest and focus over a week of intensive workshops. Their staff were always most supportive, and Jasmine particularly valued the timely and always wise words of Mr. Green as the week developed. She valued his praise at the end of the project all the more therefore as she knew him to be perceptive and honest.

It was decided to use both schools as a venue, so as to give as wide a range of experience as possible to all the young people. Although the two schools are physically so close, it was obvious that the pupils had not visited each other before, and this extra sharing was a key feature of the week. This meant that all the children were presented with the challenge of working in a new environment with new people, both children and adults. They coped with all of this magnificently, and visibly grew in confidence day by day. This arrangement worked particularly well as the two schools are, in effect, on the same campus with only Tewkesbury Comprehensive School between them. The walk between the schools during the lovely summer weather was always a very enjoyable time.

Both schools could not have been more welcoming to the Awakenings Project. They made their staffrooms available to us, and cleared their normal timetables so that we could have uninterrupted use of the halls.

Alderman Knight's School's hospitality also extended to lunch hours, so that for the middle three days of the week each of the Tirlebrook groups in turn were invited to stay and to eat their lunch with their new friends. This was extremely successful, and lifted the new friendships that were being made to higher level.

Also popular was the chance for the Tirlebrook pupils to use the extensive Alderman Knight fields and to play on the large play equipment.

Jasmine worked within four main themes with each group, and this varied approach gave a lot of dance and music experiences to the children:

  • Dances that help us to make new friends
  • Dances that help us to think with our bodies (improvise)
  • Dances from different countries and cultures
  • Dances that allow us to contribute our own imaginative ideas about the summer holidays (groupwork)

Within this framework each of the three groups allowed their own ideas to develop until each group ended the week with their own unique set of different dances that they could share with each other. Everyone was impressed with the way that Jasmine could work with the children, taking on board their ideas and enthusiasms, as well as adjusting smoothly and seamlessly to any difficulties that the young people might encounter. She was wonderfully supported throughout by Ian, the musician and pianist who always accompanied her work with such sensitivity, creating music that fitted the constantly changing themes so well. All the young people (and the teachers!) clearly enjoyed seeing such a talented 'live' pianist at work.

There was much discussion about how the three groups should share their finished performance pieces. Finally we decided on two performances - one at the end of the Friday morning at Alderman Knight and a repeat performance in the afternoon at Tirlebrook. School Governors were invited, and the Tirlebrook class were eager to invite their parents.

We were delighted to see a number of parents who managed to come and share the afternoon. Two performances on Friday was a lot to ask of the young people but they rose to the occasion splendidly, sustaining their energy and interest, both as performers and audience. The high standards of achievement raised expectations for everyone. The dances were humorous, thoughtful and danced with accuracy and enthusiasm. This format for the Friday worked very well, and the whole day, including the short rehearsal slots for each groups at the start of the morning had a strong celebratory feeling.

It was interesting to discover through feedback sheets that the outwardly exuberant and seemingly confident Tirlebrook children were in fact very apprehensive about meeting new people, making friends, and tackling new tasks. This anxiety was particularly marked as they anticipate the performance. However, at the end of the Friday, when asked, they voted that the sense of achievement they felt when showing their dances had meant that braving their fear had been worth it. It was very pleasing that the young people had been able to express their fears through the feedback sheets which were a clear success in both schools and a sample of them are attached at the end of the report. Jasmine was also very sensitive in her handling of each session, allowing time for the groups to sit and share with each other thoughts about the work of the day and also how they were feeling. This challenged the children to be observant and to find way of articulating their feelings, and Jasmine always gave clear permission for emotions to be discussed and the children responded with thoughtful comments and careful listening to each other.

Through the simple act of dancing together for a week, children forged new relationships, over came fears and worries about differences with apparent ease, whilst showing a willingness to explore their thoughts and feelings with astonishing honesty and clarity. Both groups were seen to grow in confidence, and all the staff were delighted when even children that they thought might struggle could be seen to respond during the week. Jasmine and Ian both feel that the strength of an Awakenings Project is the degree of flexibility that enables everyone to see new possibilities, different ways of doing things, and for staff and students to learn so much from one another. Normally it is teachers who try to enthuse their students, they enjoyed seeing this role being taken over so effectively by the children's peer groups.

At the start of the project, everyone was undoubtedly nervous as to how it would all develop. However the week was clearly a very special time for both schools and the young people involved. Many factors contributed to the success to the week, and led to an awakening of new possibilities and relationships for all involved. Mr. Goodger, headteacher of Tirlebrook, and Mr. Walsh, headteacher of Alderman Knight were both delighted to be involved in this project. They felt that it had been of enormous benefit to every one that was involved, and that it was an important venture for all the young people and staff from both schools. At the end of the week, the staff who had worked with the project were discussing the possibilities of building on their new relationship, and suggestions including a summer picnic for all the pupils involved were put forward. We all felt that something special had been started, and we hope that it will be possible to develop the links that have now been forged between these two schools.

As the Alderman Knight pupils left Tirlebrook on Friday afternoon to return across the fields to their own school all the young people enthusiastically waved goodbye to their new friends, and the feeling was certainly that there had been a power and a joy in this Awakenings project.

Sarah Shaw
Dance Development Offecer for Gloucestershire Dance
Awakenings Coordinator.

Gloucestershire Dance
Colwell Centre for the Arts in Education
Derby Road
Gloucester GL1 4AD
(click on address to send an email to Gloucestershire Dance)

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