What's new in the Fine and Performing Arts

District art program expands with the addition of district-wide orchestra, elementary art classes, and a High School theatre program

Already there is a buzz, or rather the gentle sound of a viola, throughout the district with the arrival of Dr. Katherine Sinsabaugh, the new Supervisor of the Fine and Performing Arts.

Her role comes with the directive to expand K-12 fine art options, create a district-wide orchestra program and implement a High School Theatre program - essentially to create a unified fine and performing art program.

"It is an honor to work in the Port Chester Schools and to be the first Supervisor of Fine and Performing Arts. I am passionate about arts education, and I am very excited to work with the whole community to help every child find their voice through the arts." Dr. Sinsabaugh said.

"There is so much positive research about how playing an instrument, singing, acting, and creating art help children succeed in education. The arts have been found to increase spatial reasoning, executive functioning, promote collaboration skills, teach students to work with others and problem-solving skills to name a few." she continued. "It's wonderful that our kids will have this increased opportunity."

It is a sentiment shared by Superintendent Aurelia L. Henriquez.

"Athletics and the Arts are a critical part of the Whole Child/Student experience," Dr. Henriquez said "By exposing our students to music, the arts learning and athletics, we are preparing them for life. There are so many critical lessons learned about self-discipline, confidence, grit, teamwork, and there are even lessons in failure. Our students learn to persevere, through their participation and commitment to the arts and athletics. These experiences boost engagement and promote 21st century learning skills that are required for college, careers and beyond."

New initiatives include: each elementary school will now have a dedicated art teacher. Orchestra will be offered from 3rd-grade through middle and high school. In addition, there is a new theater teacher at the high school.

To get ready for all these new programs, Dr. Sinsabaugh had a busy summer.  She met with teachers over the summer to plan the curriculum for all of the new class offerings. Dr. Sinsabaugh worked with the art teachers to develop a curriculum designed to be flexible and progress as students move from elementary to middle and high school. The new curriculum includes opportunities that allow students to do similar art projects across the district, cultivating shared art experiences that they can build on as they progress to the Middle School and High School. She has also met regularly with the strings teachers to develop a curriculum, and in addition, they planned how to recruit students to join. The theater teacher has also been busy creating a curriculum, and there will be an International Baccalaureate component to the program.

"Port Chester is known for its amazing band, choir, and general music programs," Dr. Sinsabaugh said. "It has been wonderful to see our new and long-time teachers work together to be a united department." "Indeed, now that programs have started, the arts are blossoming. It has been incredible to see our student's interest and excitement to participate in all of our programs."

This summer, besides developing programs, Dr. Sinsabaugh created a Fine and Performing Arts website. The website is meant to help families, and community members connect with school programs. Community members can see events, and also parents have a way to communicate with class teachers. She also started a Twitter account to highlight arts learning in classrooms and performances to help the community have a window into Port Chester schools.

Dr. Sinsabaugh recognizes that students need to connect to our world, especially in this time period. As such, among the new initiatives that will take place in the upcoming school year is a collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which will host virtual art shows for the district's third-graders and the High School art classes.  

Although the pandemic brought significant challenges to education, Dr. Sinsabaugh said, on a positive note, it did offer arts organizations and museums an opportunity to share their work with people around the world through virtual events. She hopes to take advantage of these opportunities and offer students virtual field trips to museums and performances.

This year, students can start to play an orchestra instrument in grades 3rd through High School and a band instrument in 4th and 5th grade.  For those students interested in picking up a band or orchestra instrument, Dr. Sinsabaugh invited all students to try an instrument,  whether they have had previous experience or not. "Playing an instrument is a lifelong gift," she said. "Students just need to bring their enthusiasm and be open to trying something new."

Dr. Sinsabaugh also gave some advice about starting a new instrument and participating in art and theatre, "Don't be afraid to make a mistake. We all need to make mistakes to learn." She continued,  "have fun working on your art. The more you do your art the more confidence you get, and it's incredible you make less mistakes." "Enjoy learning," she said. "It's not about being perfect. Quality comes from your perseverance and hard work."

Dr. Sinsabaugh, who plays the viola, was previously the orchestra teacher in Mamaroneck UFSD and is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University. She is a graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University,  has a MM from Manhattan School of Music, and an Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University.  She has worked as a freelance musician, performing with various artists, chamber ensembles, and orchestras on Broadway and tri-state orchestras. She is a published writer, and she is an active education presenter.

Her philosophy for any student, whether they play an instrument, act, or take art classes or embark on a different learning adventure "take advantage of every opportunity especially in the arts since that is the place where you can better learn about yourself and our world."

"I just think it's really an incredible time for Port Chester, and for the district to recognize the value of the arts in education. Everyone has been so enthusiastic, and I feel very fortunate to be in such a thriving arts community." she said of Port Chester. "I think it's great the schools reflect the cultural Port Chester community"