The beat begins small, a simple stomp that almost echoes in the silent space of the large meeting room. The stomp, stomp, stomp grows, repeated in rhythm until 188 feet are pounding the floor. With an encouraging nod from the leader, the stomping students then start clapping to their feet’s beat, and the large, once hollow room is filled with percussive song — the peak of a college class unlike any other, given that the stomping students in attendance are elementary education majors, not dance students.
There are no desks or chairs or laptops in this classroom, and every student participates, feeding off the energy of their peers and one enigmatic leader who knows how to turn the shuffling of feet and restless, wandering minds into art.
All this in the recent “Rhythm and Fitness” workshop at SUU which was created to teach 94 education students and 56 local elementary teachers how to integrate exercise into the classroom experience, with the ultimate goal of encouraging more active, engaged and healthy learners.
With one in four children in the U.S. overweight, it is this lesson of active learning Carrie Trenholm, endowed arts education chair at SUU, hopes these education students will carry forward into their own classrooms one day by marrying physical activity with the arts.
Trenholm explains, “With the arts and physical education slowing moving out of schools and obesity quickly moving in, I wanted to help teachers find a way to incorporate fitness and art in their curriculum, to buoy up their lessons and get kids excited and moving.”
So Trenholm invited Robert Wallace, a talented percussionist from the San Francisco Bay area, to Cedar City in hopes that his innovation and enthusiasm would inspire local and soon-to-be educators.
Wallace, who has studied dance and drumming at the University of Ghana and received additional training in Port-of-Prince, Trinidad, Cuba and Brazil, is the founder of Total Rhythm, where he teaches fitness and drumming classes. He brought his methods to SUU in February for a three-day workshop that combined the disciplines of dance, music, isometrics and drumming with teaching methods that nourish the body, mind and spirit.
With an undoubtedly infectious energy, Wallace had even the shyest of students smiling and dancing with ease as he taught them how to integrate entertaining fitness routines in their classrooms that will give their students a healthy outlet for their energy. Trenholm, a longtime educator, says this challenge to get and hold a student's attention is half the battle in the education of today’s youth.
“I have done the research and it all shows that schools with strong art programs have less problems with their students,” said Trenholm. “Not all students are gifted with numbers or letters, and many students have difficulty learning off a whiteboard. If teachers can learn how to incorporate a math or English lesson through an art project, they will encourage their students to reach his or her highest potential.”
Wallace’s Rhythm and Fitness workshop was the latest in SUU’s ongoing artFUSION professional development program for local educators and SUU education students, funded by the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, Art Works for Kids and The Utah Division of Arts and Museums. ArtFUSION workshops are held each year to bring art into the life of every child in southern Utah, and Wallace is the latest in a long list of artists who have led workshops in the past, ranging from musicians and actors to puppeteers and sculptors.
Senior elementary education student Jessie Brinson said she looks forward to these workshops each year because they challenge her to be more creative in her lesson plans and to see just how broad the possibilities really are. According to Brinson, this most recent Rhythm and Fitness Workshop has been the best yet.
“I loved all the other artFUSION workshops I’ve attended, but this one surpassed all expectations. Percussion activities, fun chants and music are a great way for children to remember lessons, and I know that I will really be able to bring what I learned into my classroom.”
Brinson and her 93 peers, plus the 56 local educators in attendance, join an ever-growing group of people touched by the ongoing efforts of Trenholm through the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, Art Works for Kids and The Utah Division of Arts and Museums. In the last six years since beginning the artFUSION workshops at SUU, Trenholm has worked with more than 30,000 school children and 2,100 current and future educators.