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

Rhythms is something that is unique to City and Country’s curriculum. Founded 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.”

While students and faculty are still exploring what Rhythms really means, the concept “has always been about providing a space in which children and 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 learn 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.

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 students. As a result, there are some students who are unsatisfied with Rhythms class. Hearing from students who were not big fans of Rhythms, I sent out a survey to gather more opinions from the Upper School. Aside from 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 did not know what real world importance Rhythms has.

For example, 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.” The group of kids who said they did not particularly love Rhythms, gave similar responses on the survey. These students said they would rather have Rhythms replaced with something that could be a more beneficial use of their time, like Study Hall or Electives. They like Rhythms, but are uncertain if what they are learning is useful or necessary. To change this mindset, students should first learn what the main purpose and benefits of Rhythms are, instead of jumping right into activities, which they might not know the reason behind. It is fair to say that possibly adjustments can be made so that Rhythms is more satisfactory to C&C students as they get older. The faculty members working on developing Rhythms are trying to shape it into an excellent program, but are not yet aware of what Upper School students think. City and Country has invested 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. They have found both Zelda and Michelle Gay, who have integrated their own teaching styles into the program, improv and acting. This has helped lay a sturdy foundation for Rhythms and has helped, 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. Over the summer, Zelda will look at Social Studies and its relationship to Rhythms. She will collaborate with Upper School teachers in thinking about how to explore the different Social Studies topics in movement and expression. For the future XIIIs Rhythms classes, Zelda will reading the curriculum from the last five years to get a better sense of what they learn and find interesting. She will also delve in to the Newspaper and ideas surrounding the press and how to express them in movement, facial expression, and body language. “How do we express privilege, show bias, show social and group dynamics, and also express what it is to be a teen and deal with real life?” One of Zelda’s main goals is to allow the XIIIs to get a say in what they want to do. Another big thing that Zelda and 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 Rhythms Team will be facilitating an interactive workshop, which includes sharing the history of Rhythms, learning about the Rhythms fundamentals, and how the program supports a students intrinsic desire to move by participating in activities which focus on movement with music, materials, and as a form of dramatic expression.” Kate, Madeleine Butler-Rose, and Zelda will present 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 to fit the interests 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 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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