V.A.S.E. Supports Student Engagement

            V.A.S.E, the Sippican Elementary School parent-teacher organization, works every year to ensure that students experience enrichment activities beyond their classroom work.

            Through their efforts, Sippican Elementary students in past years have, among other options, attended live theater, heard speakers discuss bullying, and developed varied skills, such as fiber arts, knitting, and yoga, from artists who visited their classrooms.

            This year, of course, has been far from traditional, with visitors to schools restricted and even singing prohibited in the building to prevent virus spread. That led to challenges, said Johanna Vergoni, member at large for V.A.S.E., which stands for Volunteers at Sippican Elementary.

            “There’s so many things that have changed for the students,” she said. “It’s not an easy learning environment.”

            But the organization remained determined to provide enrichment activities, she said.

            “We still wanted to do what we’re there to do,” said Vergoni. “This year we had to be creative to make that happen.”

            They relied on being resourceful, thinking outside the box and using a means that has become universally familiar to students – Zoom.

            Through this approach, the organization brought in David Ruch, an artist and singer from western New York, to perform virtually. His performance with fifth graders complemented their classroom education on Colonial America. Ruch performed songs in Dutch, Iroquis, and English that reflected that period of history. He also performed for second graders on the subject of world communities, teaching them about different world cultures. The children tapped on their desks as he played an Indian tabla drum, among other activities.

            “It was great,” Vergoni said. “They were part of the show themselves. The kids loved it.”

            They were so pleased with the performance that they signed up another performer, Motoko Dworkin, for a combined third and fourth-grade virtual show. The Japanese storyteller shared Asian folk tales, performed traditional Japanese lullabies, and offered a demonstration of origami.

            Through Dworkin, they learned about a STARS (Students and Teachers working with Artists, Scientists, and Scholars) residency grant that is funded by the Mass Cultural Council and decided to apply. The grant was awarded to the school and will fund an afterschool program starting April 26. These six, 45-minute virtual classes will be offered to third, fourth, and fifth graders, and can accept up to 25 participants. To sign up, email vase@oldrochester.org.

            Students in these free classes will work with Dworkin to make origami animal characters and use them to create a story to help solve a community problem.

            “In a unique time, this is a program that allows students to work together,” Vergoni said.

            Another virtual class is scheduled in April for students in first grade, with plans underway to hold the same class for students in kindergarten this spring. This program, led by Vinny Lovegrove of the popular children’s group The Toe Jam Puppet Band, is titled “Drawing and Silliness with Mr. Vinny.” This show will be “really fun and silly” as he “keeps it light and fun,” she said.

            V.A.S.E. is also hoping to find a “fun program” for sixth graders, possibly something outdoors. Because these students will be graduating from Sippican, organizers are “really looking to do something special” for them, she said.

            The virtual programs also extended to Project Grow, the Sippican preschool. Children there watched a prerecorded performance by Dworkin.

            V.A.S.E. was happy to offer all grade levels specific virtual enrichment this year, she said, with support from Principal Marla Sirois, teachers, and staff. Vergoni hopes the programs provided “an opportunity to be creative and to take a break” from their routines.

            Next year, she hopes, activities will be more traditional. But for this year, she said, “We’re happy we can still provide it.”

            For more information on V.A.S.E., visit sites.google.com/oldrochester.org/vase/home.

By Sandy Quadros Bowles

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