Some Allen County classrooms are being temporarily transformed into mini opera houses all for the sake of education. “It feels like a concert,” said Southwick Elementary first grader Kyleizh Gaulden. “My favorite part is singing and dancing and learning about different new words.”

Twice a week during the school year Heartland Sings takes opera to the classrooms of local first graders in its Arts Integrated Residency Program. Instructors help students develop language arts skills through interactive lessons. “We actually start in the first half of the year,” said Stephanie Carlson, Director of Development and Education at Heartland Sings. “We teach lessons and actually work with their language acquisition and their literacy to build those skills to give them the tools to create the opera by the second half of the year. So not only are they learning language arts but they’re exposed to a genre of the arts that they would never be able to be exposed to at any other time.” 

“I like this class because they give us more expression and they give us more things to learn,” said Gaulden. With the help of Arts Integrated instructors the students come up with the story concept and the characters. 

“It increases their writing,” said first grade teacher Sarah Gerig. “They’re using some of the words they sing in the opera in their writing and they don’t realize that they’re learning that. They have just created a story and that is so important because it takes the stress off of learning. It makes it fun for them.”

“Last year we had three classes and this year we’re able to expand to have four classes,” said Southwick Elementary School Principal Diamond Robinson. “It’s great to see how far the kids grow through the school year.”

Each class performs its own opera at the end of the school year. The students conceptualize the story from start to finish. They create the setting, the characters, the plot and determine the lesson learned. “Last year we were able to have parents night where parents came to see the opera. Some were in tears. They were impressed. We are fortunate to have Heartland Sings at Southwick.”

“Southwick was our pilot school. This is our second year here,” said Carlson. “We’re also at Adams Elementary in FWCS and we’ve also been fortunate to add Washington Elementary in FWCS. So now we have eight total first grade classes and God willing we’ll expand to even more next year.

The Arts Integrated Residency Program run by Heartland Sings receives support from East Allen County Schools, Fort Wayne Community Schools, and corporate sponsors, including Sweetwater and Parkview Health.

This school year, Washington Elementary added the Heartland Sings initiative to its classrooms thanks to support from the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne, which donated $7,000 to help fund the program. Call (260) 436-8080 or go to the Heartland Sings website for more information.