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Students in a musical theater Kimmel Education program with masks pose for a group photo with jazz hands

Engaging Students With The Arts

Posted by:  Mark Wong, Artistic Director of Hip Hop Fundamentals and an Educational Program Coordinator for the Kimmel Cultural Campus on November 18, 2021

Meet Mark Wong – a member of the Kimmel Cultural Campus Education Team and co-founder and artistic director of Hip Hop Fundamentals. Mark is passionate about engaging all students with the arts (and helping teachers out at the same time!), whether that be through supplemental free Kimmel Education programs or arts-related activities in the classroom.

I have the utmost respect for everyone who works in schools. I don’t mean that in a flippant way; I know that sometimes salutes to teachers feel a bit surface-level. Even before COVID, it was always a tough gig. I’ve been in schools and have seen you clean up all the messes, literally and figuratively. Being a classroom teacher, principal, administrator, nurse, counselor, security guard, or any staff member has always been a demanding and often undervalued job.

The bulk of my experience is as a Teaching Artist. As co-founder and artistic director of Hip Hop Fundamentals, most of my days were spent going to schools and dancing with young people in classrooms, hallways, gyms, and auditoriums. Like all of us, young people want to communicate, to be heard, to understand who they are, and to find a voice. They have boundless energy, curiosity, and their little hearts are fully open. And I often got to witness firsthand how powerful and life-changing the performing arts can be to a student’s life.  

Mark in action with Hip Hop Fundamentals (Photo credit: Tony Kruth)

We sometimes forget that meaningful arts experiences fulfill all of these needs and more. Meeting these needs not only fosters students who are fully awake and fully alive, but also builds a culture of openness, collaboration, and empathy in schools. Remember, for some youth, the performing arts can be the brightest part of their lives, and many of them may not even know that these artforms exist. Finding their artistic voice can be a large part of what keeps them resilient through a multitude of changes, especially now when COVID forces change upon them daily.

During the height of the pandemic, Hip Hop Fundamentals was honored to collaborate with the Kimmel Cultural Campus to provide two free virtual experiences for students: we danced and discussed creativity with the #PhillyBeatz 6th grade virtual field trip, and we provided a 45-minute interactive video on the history of Hip Hop dance, free for the entire month of February.

We were happy to learn that many Philadelphians - including teachers, students, and classrooms - engaged with these virtual offerings, and it was an incredible opportunity for us as Teaching Artists to keep doing what we loved during the lockdown. More recently, as performers in the amazing Kimmel Cultural Campus Arts Launch reopening event, we saw how hungry Philadelphians are to dance, feel, hear, and share a room with performances and artistic expressions.

Now that the city is becoming safer, the Kimmel Education department is ready to provide YOU - the classroom teachers, principals, and school administrators – with FREE programming to enrich your students’ lives and, hopefully, make your jobs a little brighter and easier! Kimmel Education signature programs are focused toward 4th - 6th graders - ages when our future leaders are starting to form their identities, personalities, and opinions. This is also a demographic which is often overlooked in terms of deep arts experiences. The Kimmel offers three signature programs, each developed for a particular grade-level:

Students practice their musical theater skills online in a virtual One Musical Philadelphia class

We have a team of passionate and experienced Teaching Artists ready to come to your school to facilitate enlightening, educational, and FUN experiences. All our programs are specifically designed to engage your students with activities, challenges, and opportunities. As part of these programs, we are optimistically ready to welcome student groups into our theater spaces for in-person educational performances. However, it’s important to note that our signature programs are NOT centered around providing ‘one fun field trip day’. We strive to curate deep, multi-session, and enlightening experiences where the magic is rooted in your school communities, not on the Kimmel stages.

But how, you ask, can the arts help me and my classroom? Well, as I’m sure we all know, practicing how to sing, or appreciate Jazz, or create original music, teaches more than meets the eye. Our signature programs are founded in SEL-related goals (social and emotional learning), using the artforms as a method to teach important skills like collaboration, empathy, creativity, expression, and social justice. Injecting the performing arts helps build a healthy culture in your school community. Give us your non-traditional learners, your wigglers, show-offs, and timid ones, and our Teaching Artists can help them find a new way to view themselves and the world. In fact, you may even discover the joyful or helpful side of your ‘disruptive’ or ‘disengaged’ little ones.

If I were you, I'd be asking, “but won't this create more work for me?” Well, there is a bit of commitment and buy-in required from your school, but the Kimmel has a whole team of dedicated managers and coordinators to support you and our Teaching Artists as the programs unfold. All you really need is a passion for enriching your students and for a few students to sign up, and we’ll help you figure everything else out along the way.

Students singing in a Jazz4Freedom workshop in 2019

The easiest way to learn more about the Kimmel signature programs is to check out the links above or at the website here. Each program is unique in terms of timespan, content, and implementation. They all bring a special kind of magic. If you think this could be a good fit for you, register online, or contact us.

It’s also important to remember that the Kimmel Cultural Campus is not the only way to utilize performing arts in schools. I want to encourage all of you to use the power of the arts to your advantage. Play some theater games. Start each week with a dance warm up and close every week with a freestyle dance circle. Play instruments for your students. Have them play or drum or rap for you. Get creative, and do what you need to do to keep them awake and alive. Just know that we’re here to help you.

 But above all, keep your heads up, keep being creative, and keep growing the future leaders of Philadelphia. I challenge you to bring the arts into your classrooms, with or without us. I promise you’ll be glad you did!

(Photo credit: Tony Kruth)

Mark Wong is Artistic Director of Hip Hop Fundamentals and an Educational Program Coordinator for the Kimmel Cultural Campus. He’s driven to help provide all young people with the artistic experiences they deserve.

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