Proud parents, armed with cameras and smartphones, filled the seats in the auditorium at The Dufrocq School on Tuesday morning to watch an adaptation of the famous children’s story, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
Also watching the kindergartners’ spring dance recital were representatives from the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts along with supporters like Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
They came to highlight the Baton Rouge school, one of nine the foundation has been working with in Louisiana to integrate the arts into the classroom and to announce the names of eight more schools the foundation plans to support next year. These schools are known as A+ schools.
The foundation pays about $75,000 to train teachers in arts integration in each school spread out over a three-year period. All of Dufrocq’s teachers have gone through the training.
The foundation’s executive director, Jacques Rodrigue, the son of the famed artist from New Iberia, the late George Rodrigue, who is best known for his series of “Blue Dog” paintings.
The younger Rodrigue said his father started the foundation to ensure that arts would remain a vital part of a child’s education.
“We view the arts as not just the bloom of a flower, but as a wrench, part of the toolkit we use for all education,” Rodrigue said.
Two of the program’s eight new schools are, like Dufrocq, part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system: Howell Park and Park elementary schools.
The other six A+ schools announced Thursday: J. Wallace James Elementary in Lafayette; Messiah Montessori School in Houma; ReNEW McDonogh City Park Academy in New Orleans; Ridge Elementary in Duson; Rollins Place Elementary in Zachary; St. Helena College and Career Academy in Greensburg.
Rodrigue said after the grants expire, the school district picks up where the foundation left off.
“We train ourselves out of business,” he said.
Thursday’s performance was directed by Becky Coxe, a dance instructor for Zachary who also works with students at several Baton Rouge schools through a grant from the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge.
Kindergartner Bryce Holmes starred as the very hungry caterpillar. To the strains of Chopin, the green-clad Holmes crawled slowly underneath the legs of his ballet dancing fellow students, all dressed as fruits and other delicious foods. After Holmes passed underneath, each student would then double over as if they’d just been gobbled up and dart off stage.
After the gorging, several students dressed as butterflies circled around the fat caterpillar until a rainbow-winged butterfly emerged, who was played by fellow student Claire Malbrue.
“That was the hungriest caterpillar I’ve ever seen,” declared Dardenne as the performance ended.
“Are you stuffed? Is your tummy still full?” Dardenne asked Holmes, who responded by patting his stomach in the affirmative.
Principal Mary Robvais said she’s long been an advocate of arts in schools, saying it increases children’s joy in education and cuts down on discipline problems. The Rodrigue Foundation grant has allowed all teachers at her school to benefit and made converts out of skeptics, she said.
“Once they see it and the way the children are engaged, they see the benefits,” she said.
Bethany France, director of Louisiana A+ Schools, is also a parent of two children who attend Dufrocq. She said her youngest son, Lucas, doesn’t need to be coaxed into going to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days Ms. Coxe teaches dancing.
“I know he’s been dancing because he comes home with his shoes on backwards,” France said.