by NATHANIEL NELSON
In a dimly lit dance studio at the Valencia Arts Center, Zoey Malchaski clutches her instrument and waits for her cue. “Can somebody make a rain sound?” the teacher asks. Malchaski’s eyes light up and she flips her shaker around, as beads slowly fall from one end to the other. The other students in the class begin to add their instruments to the chorus, with thunderous drums and chimes echoing around the black room.
This is a common scene at Valencia, following a new partnership between the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts (MCA) and Riverway Learning Community. Students will be bussed over to the Valencia Arts Center once a week to add music classes to their curriculum, splitting into two groups and learning about the ins and outs of music in a fitting atmosphere. This is the second community partnership for Riverway, after a partnership with the YMCA began last year.
“At Riverway, one of the mantras we have is that we need to use the community as a classroom. There are a lot of ways to learn in the community,” Riverway Director Oscar Uribe said. “We decided that for the first trimester of school, students were going to be taking music lessons at Valencia and put on a show at the end to celebrate the first year.”
Uribe, who began working at the charter school this year, said he was looking for new ways to reach students and expand the curriculum of the school and one of the ways the school was lacking was in music and art programming. Uribe explained that Riverway is an open school where noise travels easily, so putting those classes in the building would be a detriment to the program.
Uribe decided to reach out to Jamie Schwaba, managing director of MCA, to talk about bringing the students over to Valencia.
“We were able to work in the logistics and the transportation and the right space for [the students]. They have all the instruments, all the tools, and all the space, so it makes more sense for them to be out there than for us to facilitate things here,” Uribe said.
Schwaba explained that MCA has partnered with Riverway to offer three music classes for students — pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, first through third grades, and fourth through sixth grades. Each group is bussed to Valencia once a week for classes, where they are taught by Kerry Klungtvedt, a certified K-12 music teacher, and Schwaba herself.
“They’ve been doing some drumming, some guitar, and learning basic music skills,” Schwaba said. “Not only are they learning music skills, but they are also learning life skills, like having to listen and working on right and left [hand] differentiation.”
Community partnerships are one of the unique ways that Riverway teaches its students about the world, Uribe said. Many of the students come from low-income families, he explained, so they don’t always have access to after-school programs that other students do.
“We want to show them that there is more to the community than their neighborhood and the school,” he said. “They go to the community and the different things in the community, which open their eyes to the horizons for them so they can see themselves as a part of the community and as contributors to the community.”
Last year, the school began partnering with the YMCA to provide swimming classes and other physical education at its facility during the second trimester, which Uribe said is continuing this year. For the third trimester, organizers will be bussing to Saint Mary’s University for soccer lessons with professor and assistant men’s soccer coach Joe Tadie.
“The goal is that we will do it next year as well,” Uribe explained. “Every trimester we have a different partnership, and the goal is to continue year after year.”
Schwaba said MCA is happy to partner with Riverway, and since many students don’t have the ability to participate in arts programs after school, the organization is glad to fill that gap. “It’s going really well. We’re very excited to be working with them and provide them with something they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.
While music is the only current collaboration between the two organizations, Schwaba said she hopes that they will continue to partner and expand art accessibility for students in the years to come.
“They have a visual arts class, but outside of that, they are limited in the arts. We’re hoping in the future to add theater programming and stuff like that so the students get a well rounded education,” Schwaba said.