Twenty-three years ago, Joanne Lawrence began a community outreach initiative called the Moving Company through community-based learning. Three years ago, Lawrence brought the Green Map Project to Weber State University as well, combining it with the Moving Company to teach children about sustainability through dance.
The Moving Company is part of WSU’s community outreach program. Dancers from various backgrounds get together and use dance to communicate messages throughout the community. This year, the Moving Company is working with Michael Hamblin, an expert in cultural dance forms, to teach fourth-grade students the importance of dances of the Western Migration.
“We are teaching them these Utah dances that were brought along the pioneer trail,” said Amanda Sowerby, the director for this year’s Moving Company. “The students are learning through the state history another way of knowing the people who founded this state through their dance.”
Sowerby said she thinks dancing is very important for a young child’s development. She said young children have so much energy that they have an impulse to move.
“It is unfortunate that we are having less and less physical education in schools these days,” Sowerby said. “So this is another opportunity to engage the students through physicality and the arts.”
Lawrence said combining education with dancing is also beneficial for the learning process. As the children engage in movements and hear songs while they learn, they later come to associate those movements and songs with particular concepts.
“There are many different ways of learning, and if you are combining visual, kinesthetic and oral, there is much more opportunity to have that trigger our muscle memory,” she said.
One example is when the Moving Company, earlier this year, taught students about recycling through the use of song and dance.
“We did this dance where we pick up a can, smash it down, then put it behind our backs, and when we bring our hand back, there is a new can,” said the Moving Company’s Jordan White. “It helps them visualize these concepts, and it’s a way for their left brain and right brain to kind of mesh.”
Last year, the Moving Company worked closely with the Green Map Project to teach children about sustainability. The Green Map Project is a global initiative with a mission to take inventory of cultural resources and sustainability practices through engaging students in mapping the natural resources in their area. This year, the Green Map Project has been working closely with the Head Start Program.
“These kids are learning the alphabet, and learning their numbers, and learning words and songs,” Lawrence said. “It is much more fun to learn words when they are connected with songs, and it is a lot more fun to use those words to say something important and be proud of what we are taking care of.”
Lawrence was able to bring these programs to WSU through various donors such as the RAMP foundation, the Hall Endowment for Community Outreach Funding, the Hemingway Faculty Development Trust, the Hurst Artist/Scholar in Residence Program, and the Lindquist Fellowship for Creative and Artistic Endeavors. She said her hope is to be able to continue the two programs by following up with the children who have been taught as part of the Head Start Program and continuing to teach them.
“If we can get the funding necessary, we can bring back the kindergarteners who were in the Head Start Program to learn more,” Lawrence said. “If we continue to bring these students back to campus, we will have them knowing early on that their future is in going to college.”