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PAVE-ING THE WAY TO STARDOM IN NEW ROCHELLE

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by Beth Feldman

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Shanice is a shy fourth grader who stutters when she gets nervous. But put Shanice in front of an audience and give her a song to belt out, and you’d never know she had any trouble. “I do stutter, but not when I sing,” she says. Shanice is a student at George M. Davis Elementary School in New Rochelle. A top-rated public school with a diverse population, the Davis school offers more than just a curriculum rich in academics. It also offers PAVE, a magnet overlay program for the performing arts, led by facilitator Carol Kelly. According to Kelly, the program, which began three years ago, was created with three goals in mind. First, PAVE gives every student from kindergarten through fifth grade the opportunity to see a live theater performance. Second, the program exposes each child to the arts through specialists from SUNY Purchase, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Arts Horizon, Young Audiences and YAFFA Cultural Arts. Students are visited on a regular basis by children’s authors and storytellers, artists, dancers and filmmakers. By the fourth grade, they participate in a production of a Colonial workshop; while fifth graders take part in the Caramoor Renaissance, a program which features musicians, singers, actors, and even a falconer, re-enacting the excitement of Renaissance Italy. The final goal of PAVE is to give every child the opportunity to perform on stage. Some of the performances featured this year include the fourth grade production of “The Snow Queen”; the first grade show “Let’s Pretend”; an April 30 production of “The Irrepressible Nanny aka Mary Poppins”, performed by the third graders; and a song and dance performance by the kindergartners on June 15. Along with being entertaining, these productions also build self-esteem. When choosing soloists, Carol Kelly says, “I try to pick children whose talents are hidden.” Shanice is the perfect example of this approach. “It’s really exciting to watch her perform,” Kelly says, and then mentions another young boy, Carlos, a shy fourth grader who bravely volunteered to sing a solo. “Carlos is a quiet young boy with a wonderful voice. When he sings, he sounds like he’s in a choir,” says Kelly. The program also benefits those students who’ve already caught the acting bug — like Joseph, a first grader at the school. Joseph, who performed in the first grade production, “Let’s Pretend”, says he loves music and art and enjoys being on stage. “I think the show was great because we knew all the songs to sing, we got dressed up, and we rehearsed every day,” he says. “At first I thought I’d be afraid to go out there, but when I saw the parents, I started to smile and had a great time.”

PAVE at New Rochelle High School While the Davis school children are learning about the arts, building self esteem and having a wonderful time performing for their peers and their parents, fast forward to New Rochelle High School to see where these budding performers may eventually land. Led by Domenic Guastaferro, supervisor of Music and Art for the New Rochelle school district, with over 20 years in the public school system and over a decade of professional experience in television, theater and opera, the PAVE magnet program at New Rochelle High School is an audition-only program that currently consists of approximately 250 students who select majors in dance, theater, visual arts and music. Students accepted into the program earn credits toward their major, taking performance classes that begin before the start of the official school day. In addition, during school hours, PAVE students take additional courses within their major as well as attend workshops by renowned performers in their chosen fields of study. Upon graduation, PAVE students who have completed the program earn a special Performing Arts designation on their high school diploma. David Rigano, a professional storyteller, budding actor and playwright, as well as a senior at New Rochelle High School, is in his final year of PAVE. David says he has benefited greatly by being a part of the program: “I’ve gotten some wonderful training and acting experience. PAVE gives me the opportunity to practice my craft every morning.” David adds that he likes being able to hone his talents while pursuing his academic studies. “I don’t have to go to New York City to find an acting program. It’s right in my school, which I think is great,” he says. There are approximately 14 teachers involved with the PAVE program, teaching subjects such as set design, studio art, choreography, history of dance and musical theater. Julia Preston, who teaches dance choreography, says her goal is to get students to “work from a place of honesty.” In a recent dance class that is part of the school’s musical theater rotation series, Preston asked students to react to different music styles and choose an emotion for each song. Following the exercise, she explained that by giving each musical selection an emotion, students would be able to choreograph their own dance based upon that description. Akin to what an aspiring actor might learn in a theater class, Preston’s approach to dance attempts to get students to understand how they can give the ultimate performance by conveying their feelings through body movement. Students participating in the musical theater rotation are currently at work on three original theater productions, complete with script, music, lyrics and dance, that will be performed at New Rochelle High School on May 24. The PAVE program also presents the “Best of Pave”, which features performances by some of the program’s most talented students and will be performed at New Rochelle High School this year on May 19. For the past two years, David Rigano and fellow PAVE student Bruno Borges have served as emcees of the event. However, this year, the duo will be bowing out, since they are collaborating on an original musical entitled “Hot Cocoa”, a production set in the 1920s to be performed at the high school on May 21 and 22. The band and chorus will showcase their talents on May 26, when the high school presents a Spring Concert Fundraiser at SUNY Purchase. With the growing success of the PAVE program, a new building dedicated to the performing arts will be erected adjacent to the high school within the next year. The facility will encompass music and art programs, including band and orchestra rooms, choral room, kiln room, dance studios, photography studio, cafeteria and a 200 plus-seat auditorium. “New Rochelle has always had a rich history in the arts, and we hope to continue cultivating it for years to come,” says Domenic Guastaferro.

 


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