Editorial: Is Rhythms An Efficient Use of Time for Upper School Students?

From left to right: XIIIs Declan Larson, Jack Sheehan, and Felix Gaddie playing with hula hoops

Rhythms is something that is unique to City and Country’s curriculum. Founded r in 1914, it nurtures the progressive mindset that Caroline Pratt first instilled in C&C. Over the years, for the Upper School, it has begun to shift from original Rhythms, music and movement, to developing acting and improvisational skills. This has been great for getting groups prepared to perform their plays and some students enjoy developing their acting skills. However, as students have begun to get older, Rhythms feels a little less necessary and some are starting to question Rhythms class and what its main purpose is, beyond play preparation.

“What is Rhythms?” said Rhythms teacher Zelda Gay. “Rhythms is not theater, Rhythms is not dance and Rhythms is not Physical Education, yet it is all those things at once,” said Zelda. While students and faculty, like Zelda, are still exploring and wondering what Rhythms really means, the concept seems to be outlined. “Rhythms has always been about providing a space in which children and people create and cultivate a space where people are free and focused,” said Zelda. In the Upper School, the XIs come in and learn about movement, the XIIs learn about relationship dynamics, and the XIIIs about big picture impression. Rhythms is a class where the creative muscle is exercised, and Zelda and Kate Morgan, a consultant to help develop the program, have been trying to find new ways to exercise this creative muscle while still maintaining the core values of Rhythms.

This has been tough to do. It is hard to honor the old values of Rhythms, implement new ideas and movement, and also exercise the creative mind, while still making Rhythms fulfilling to the Upper School. As a result, there are some students who are unsatisfied with Rhythms class. Hearing from students who were not big fans of Rhythms, it seemed fit to send out a survey to gather more opinions in the Upper School. Besides one or two, no one else on the survey said that they did not like Rhythms at all. Instead, they said that they enjoyed it, but do not know what the real world importance Rhythms has. There were a couple of responses like what Skuli Baumgardner, XIIIs, said:

“I do enjoy rhythms. Typically we do something enjoyable for all parties, and then play a game. What's not to like?” A different opinion, Max Beyer, XIIIs, said

“I enjoy Rhythms sometimes, but definitely not all the time. Sometimes the activities are fun but other times they feel kind of strange and useless.” From the group of kids that said they did not particularly love Rhythms, this was a similar response on the survey. Most of the kids who said this also said that they would rather have Rhythms replaced with something that could be more beneficial for them and their time, like study hall or electives. They like Rhythms, but rather are uncertain if what they are learning is useful or necessary. Perhaps a way to change this mindset is if the students were first taught what the main purpose and benefits of Rhythms was, instead of jumping right into activities, which they might not know the reason behind. It is fair to say that there can possibly be some adjustments made to make Rhythms more satisfactory as C&C students get older.

However, this is not to say that faculty working on developing Rhythms have not been trying to shape it into an excellent program and are not aware of what Upper School students think. City and Country has invested much time and finances in making the Rhythms program more dynamic and pleasing for all age groups. Despite this, it has been hard to establish a perfect program when there has been so many teachers who have come and gone, leaving C&C to find a new teacher to teach a class as unique as Rhythms. Luckily, they have found both Zelda and Michelle Gay, who have integrated their own teaching styles in to the program, improv and acting. This has finally helped lay a sturdy foundation for Rhythms and has helped quite a bit, considering they are both very experienced in improv and movement. William McCusker, XIIIs, took note of this in response to the question, ‘Have you noticed a difference in the Rhythms program over the years? If so, what?’ His response was,

“Yes, over this year it has become more improv based which is definitely better for older kids. Improv is more useful for older kids than doing movement and body shaping activities.” Among the students, improv, acting and classic Rhythms games are more popular than movement and body exercises.

Another big thing that the committee behind the Rhythms program is doing is they are going to the Progressive Education Network (PEN) conference in October to discuss Rhythms’ development. Gee Roldan, Director for Specials Program and Integration, said, “The proposal that’s been approved, is to provide a little bit of an overview of what Rhythms is because it having a rich history here [and] providing that context for other progressive educators about what Rhythms is, kind of the foundations and then moving on to the more natural, holistic pieces of movement that really speak to Madeleine’s (Lower and Middle school Rhythms teacher) passion and then going in to the dramatics of Rhythms and having Zelda speak on behalf of that.” Kate, Madeleine and Zelda will all be presenting together. They will lead workshop attendees to go through some movement exercises that they have prepared.

Rhythms is a unique part of City and Country’s curriculum, and it has a lot of potential. Perhaps, though, there could be some minor adjustments. The program has the ability to be tweaked with to fit the interest of all Upper School Students. There are many ways to do this. The faculty could revisit the core values of C&C and the influence of them on Rhythms, because times have changed since Rhythms was added, and kids in the past decades are responding differently to the progressive values of C&C and more specifically, Rhythms. Another option is to incorporate even more improv, acting and Rhythms games, like helicopter.

Rhythms in the Lower and Middle school should stay the same, as the younger kids tend to enjoy running around, playing games and creating different shapes with their bodies. As students get older and more mature, they may no longer feel the same excitement as when they were younger, to run, skip and jump in circles. Students do not have to like Math or Social Studies, but they are required to learn it because it is a huge part of curriculum at City and Country and at all other public and private schools around the world. No other school has a special class like Rhythms, which is why the majority of students here at C&C should appreciate and come to understand its use and benefits.

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