Campus: CSU, Long Beach -- October 27, 1999


Connecting in the Classroom

Taking university-based programs directly into the K-12 classroom is arguably the purest form of educational outreach.

That's exactly what Peter Lesnik does during the academic year with his "Classroom Connections" program at Cal State Long Beach, run through the Carpenter Performing Arts Center and fully embraced by the numerous artists who participate.

"President (Robert) Maxson has been very supportive of the center as has (dean of the College of the Arts) Wade Hobgood," said Lesnik, executive director of the Carpenter Performing Arts Center.

"Classroom Connections" highlights artists who are coming into the Carpenter Center to perform. They allow time beforehand to go out to local schools and share their talents with students. The hands-on workshops give a close-up look of the creative process each of the artists utilizes in approaching their particular field of work.

Days later, students are given the opportunity to follow up their classroom experience by attending that artist's performance at the Carpenter Center to see how the creative process evolves into an actual performance.

"All the performers love doing this," Lesnik said. "They come in two or three days before their show in the Carpenter Center, and we schedule them to visit various classes at local schools."

And when Lesnik says classes, he means a small group in a classroom, not half the school gathering in an auditorium to watch somebody perform hundreds of feet away.

"I think that's the charm of this program," Lesnik said. "You have a small group of students and they really get a lot more out of it, just like the performers themselves do. It's a lot easier to relate to somebody when you can see their face and talk with them. The intimacy is where the real connection takes place."

The program, free to schools, consists of live performances, lectures, demonstrations and other types of classroom visits. For example, this year students will get to observe dance performances, an opera singer, a nouveau vaudevillian and a children's theatre troupe, The Paper Bag Players. Last year "Classroom Connections" reached about 2,000 students, but that number is expected to triple this year.

"This is really a great passion for me," said Lesnik. "I just think it's the most important stuff we're doing."

To emphasize his point, Lesnik related a story of how a particular boy was affected by a classroom visit by a singer-songwriter who worked with the students and wrote a song, which he then included in his on-stage performance.

"There was a little boy in the class who had not spoken a word the entire year, according to the teacher. She hadn't been able to get through to him," recalled Lesnik. "He got up and sang the song in front of the class and the teacher was in tears. It's these kinds of things that really charge your battery. When you see the way these kids connect to these programs it just kind of floats you for a day."



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