During his first year at Southwestern, Tyler King taught acting to children in the Taylor Independent School District’s afterschool program called Duck University. The experience, which earned him credit for an Independent Study class, also gave him a passion for bringing the fine arts to grade-school children.
With help from administrators at Southwestern, Duck University and Taylor ISD, King created a new program to do just this. It is called the Taylor Academy.
“Volunteering with Duck University last spring was an eye-opening experience for me,” said King, who is a sophomore theatre arts major. “It showed me the need for fine arts in public education that wasn’t being met by existing programs, which have students doing math, reading and science all day long. This isn’t healthy for students and fails to provide an outlet to create, experience and express.”
King was born and raised in Canada and received an education that included opportunities to study the fine arts. “Moving to the Woodlands (a suburb north of Houston) and test-centered TAKS culture two years ago with my family was difficult,” King said. “I know that the importance of fine arts in education is being debated in the Texas Legislature, but I want students in Texas to have these opportunities now.”
Taylor Academy also was created to allow fine arts students at Southwestern to incorporate their interests in teaching and serving the community.
“As an incoming student, I wanted to work with kids but had difficulty finding existing programs that allowed me to express my passion,” King said. “The one-on-one mentoring that existing organizations provide is good, but is not applicable for a lot of fine arts subjects, especially acting. Taylor Academy is a different and unique model for student teachers.”
With the help of Suzy Pukys, director of civic engagement at Southwestern, and JoAnn Barcak, director of Duck University, King founded Taylor Academy in the summer and fall of last year and now directs it with sophomore theatre major Jennifer Gregory helping as an assistant. Academy classes are offered after school through Duck University.
“This program is extremely important in light of the disappearance of fine arts programs from many school curriculums,” Gregory said. “Art − specifically theatre − was an essential part of my personal development, and I feel no child should be denied the opportunity to pursue a subject that interests them. Not only does Taylor Academy give college students an opportunity to share their craft and gain teaching experience, but it also provides the Taylor students access to dynamic, interesting and diverse classes within the fine arts at no cost.”
Two Southwestern students are working in Taylor this semester. Sophomore musical theatre major Hannah Rose is teaching tap dancing to students in grades 3-5 and freshman theatre major Cathrin Winsor is teaching mixed media arts to students in grades 6-8.
“I was really scared before I started teaching because I had never taught such a young class before,” Rose said. “However, my experience so far has been very enjoyable. The kids are great and really have a passion to learn the things I have to teach them. It’s very rewarding when I teach them something one week and come back the next week and they all flock to me to show how they have been practicing and are better than the week before. I can’t wait to see the finished product!”
Student teachers can chose to teach for class credit, as a capstone project, or for payment. Thanks to funding provided by Southwestern’s Civic Engagement Office and Taylor ISD, Taylor Academy is able to provide student teachers with all their expenses, including travel expenses, materials and payment if they are not receiving class credit.
King and Gregory maintain contact with the student teachers throughout the semester. The teachers are required to attend four staff development days to focus on troubleshooting, and must also keep daily reviews to chart student progress and log successes and challenges.
“Many times, young students do not know what they enjoy and are really good at,” Rose said. “Taylor Academy gives students the chance to explore different hobbies and learning experiences and find what is best for them. It’s a great program.”
JoAnn Barcak, the director of Duck University, echoed Rose’s sentiments. “The Southwestern students are providing an awesome opportunity to expose our students to the world of fine arts,” she said.