A Brooklyn middle school teacher launched a timely and altruistic program ahead of the holidays, to show her students the potential of being generous. Professional dance teacher Shola Roberts at The School of Integrated Learning, M.S. 354 created, “The Art of Giving Back,” an interactive initiative demonstrating how students can exemplify selflessness through acts of kindness, particularly because it is a time where many youngsters will be expecting gifts.
“I felt like its appropriate for the holiday season because during this time we are taught about receiving, but what a joy it would be if we continued to give, especially to those in need?” asked Roberts.
Spearheading the multi-disciplined program by holding a class discussion, which encouraged students to come up with words of affirmations and the people and things they express gratitude for, Roberts determined how she wanted to institute.
She says often observing how some children tend to readily expect things, without thinking much about giving as well, she wanted to challenge that and demonstrate to them how
“Working with children, I do see how it can be easy to feel entitled to receiving, and not in a bad way, but because they don’t know what really it is to have until someone else appreciates it,” she said. “But I want to show them, what does it mean to celebrate others, and how can we celebrate people we don’t know.”
With the common and daily use of smartphones and other electronic technological devices, today’s youth are also focusing a lot of their interactions with each other through phone apps, instead of forming interpersonal bonds, said Roberts.
“There’s no really connection because we are always behind the screen,” she said. “But I want them to have human interactions, and show them that it’s okay to give someone a hug, and it’s okay to say ‘I love you.’”
As part of the initiative, Roberts taught her students a West African dance originating from Guinea, called Mendiani. The jubilant dance is usually performed at celebrations.
And her class performed the Mendiani, along with other dance styles for residents at Kingsbrook Medical center’s David Minkin Rehabilitation Institute.
The dance show was so well-received, many guests were wowed.
“It was really beautiful, and one elder lady said to us, ’You guys inspired me, and the fact that you took time out to share your gifts with us, made me happy — you are the future,’” said Roberts.
Many of residents do not often get to see a show of the sort, and Roberts was glad to provide them with the opportunity.
“The individuals we performed for may not be able to see a Broadway show or see the Ailey Dance Company, but if we are able bring it to them, and make them feel special, then I feel like we are successful,’ said Roberts.
The class will also take another trip to visit the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She says the trip will be an eye-opening and much needed exposure for the children, and they’ll learn about its famed founder and the work he did for the world of dance.
“We are going to view the center because Alvin Ailey’s line of work has impacted the world in a huge scale,” said Roberts. “Ailey and his work contributed to art of dance on a large scale, and he gave back in a number of ways, so this is an opportunity to view the institute, which contributed to a number of generations.”
Roberts says her class’s forthcoming and final concert of the year will be at the The Maggie L. Walker school on Dec. 20. She says with the lack of funding for music and dance programs, she wants people to see how the field is multi-facetted and encompasses a lot of educational benefits.
“The beauty of this program is that these students are learning more than dance. They are learning these skills to be supportive and well rounded individuals and it speaks volumes that this is being planted here in Crown Heights,” she said. “It shows that one doesn’t have to travel to Manhattan to receive the training and skills that is needed to make them the successful individual. Kids from our communities can learn that here, or any where.”