Bethel’s Kennedy Center partnership honors MLK’s legacy

Actors perform a portion of Get on the Bus. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Arts Live.

For nearly 30 years, Bethel has proudly partnered with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to provide our art teachers with some of the best professional learning opportunities in the country.

Bethel was one of the first school districts to enter the Partners in Education Program, and while the program has grown to include nearly 100 partnerships throughout the nation, ours remains the only one in Washington State.

The partnership team — which also includes Tacoma Arts Live, Tacoma Public Schools, and the Puyallup School District — meets monthly to assess and guide artistic opportunities offered for students and teachers in our area. The team also attends the annual national conference in Washington, D.C.

“The focus is to foster arts exposure, with the belief that teachers’ professional learning is an essential component of any effort designed to increase the artistic literacy of young people,” said Mike Saccomanno, Bethel’s Director of Teaching and Learning Arts & Curriculum Integration.

Tacoma Arts Live performers meet with students after a show.

The partnership is visible in Bethel through the LENS project, which is an after school violence prevention program designed to empower students and build community. The project is active at 12 elementary and middle schools this year.

As a member of our partnership, Tacoma Arts Live annually brings its Civil Rights Legacy Tour to numerous Bethel schools. The productions are meant to encourage civic responsibility among young learners and honor the legacy of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

This year’s production was Get on the Bus, which puts a modern spin on civil rights as two characters are preparing to board a bus to stand up for immigrants facing discrimination. The story takes on a deeper meaning when the characters meet Ms. Vivian, a veteran of the original Freedom Rides of the 1960s. The production asks students to consider how the challenges and lessons of the Civil Rights Movement could influence their actions today.

Saccomanno called the production “powerful” and said he’s excited for Bethel students to watch and learn from it.

“It explores the history of the Freedom Riders and the present day implications and challenges for students in the areas of social justice and human dignity,” he said.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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