Cultural Centre aims to expand Kaleidoscope programs for students

·4 min read

The global pandemic might have put a damper on some of the goals the Aurora Cultural Centre set out to achieve in the first year of its Kaleidoscope in the Schools Program, but the successes they were able to accomplish during this difficult time is spurring expansion.

The Kaleidoscope in the Schools (KITS) initiative was launched by the Aurora Cultural Centre in 2019 with support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and private donors Isobel Ralston and Jan Oudenes. Throughout its first year, before COVID-19 got in the way, the Cultural Centre began rolling KITS out to all Aurora students in publicly-funded schools from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 4.

Steered by the theme of “The Journey of the Child.” KITS worked with teachers in professional development in arts workshops, collaborated on in-class activities, brought in arts performances into classrooms and facilitated post-show student workshops where kids got a hands-on cultural experience.

The success of the program was clear from the outset, according to Cultural Centre Executive Director Suzanne Haines, and also clear was there was an opportunity to do so much more.

“I brought this idea to the community through conversations with programming staff…based on having run with schools in other communities and school boards, understanding the academic world as it studied what the impact of having arts in the schools meant,” says Ms. Haines. “That kind of democratized access and understanding the impacts that live performance has on a group of people and how that helps students interact with each other [through] shared experience – it deepens curriculum tie-ins.”

According to Ms. Haines, the development of KITS in Aurora is the culmination of years of work, supporting elementary school teachers with professional development where there might not already be an area of specialty, looking at ways to integrate the arts in all areas of lesson, including maths and sciences, and finding ways to continue all-important conversations with students.

“It has really been a huge success from the standpoint of bringing it all together and seeing it work,” says Ms. Haines. “There were some really happy surprises and anecdotes that came out of our first year, like informal meet-ups after the shows with Grade 4 kids who saw puppetry and really wanted to understand more about puppet manipulation and creation. They wanted to hang out in the gym after, which was really fun to see.”

But the first year was not all smooth sailing.

Above and beyond some threats of labour disruption within the schools in the early days of the program, COVID-19 was soon on the horizon and all programs in the schools were halted in March of 2020. KITS was able to mount a brief comeback in September with a live cultural performance at Town Park, the Centre’s first such outdoor offering, but a return to stringent public health measures forced programming to be moved to the backburner once more.

The downtime has offered the Centre a chance to continue building connections, and this they have done in earnest through York Region’s school boards.

These are the connections that are set to guide KITS into its second year as we settle into our collective new normal.

Conversations with the Boards have lain the groundwork for a significant expansion of KITS beyond Aurora to bring the program into underserved schools throughout York Region – that is, schools that have limited access to the arts.

“The plan was always to grow,” says Ms. Haines. “Now that we have these conversations in place, we have devised a plan to grow further, always serving Aurora as our primary core of schools that are publicly funded that we go into. We would like to continue our delivery and, within the pandemic, we have had some incredibly productive conversations… to deliver the professional development component to teachers in Aurora specifically.

“The intention is to deliver the professional development in a bit of a different way. We have been able to adapt our plans because of the pandemic. There has been some feedback in the school boards from teachers that have identified that teaching art, music and drama, and those kinds of engaging pieces, is going to be a massive challenge. We have an arts facilitator to deliver the professional development around arts integration, which is looking at how to use art throughout the curriculum and implement it.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran