She's sitting on the floor, legs splayed apart, hair falling
forward, violet socks peeking out from beneath her black pant legs.
The shapes and colors that have Liz O'Donnell's attention, though,
are the bright scraps of construction paper that she's turning into
a mask, inspired by a comic Chinese opera.
It's not the way this third-grade teacher from the Bronx
typically spends her days, but an out-of-the-ordinary experience is
just what she's come to count on from the Lincoln Center
Institute's professional development program for teachers. This is
the fifth summer in a row that she's come back for it.
"I'm not here just for my students but also for me," she says.
"I' m a lifelong learner."
The management of New York City's prestigious Lincoln Center for
the Performing Arts started the institute because of a conviction
that appreciation of the arts begins with the young. They held the
first summer session in July 1976, with just 47 teachers.
The founders hoped that by immersing teachers of any discipline
in the arts, their own enthusiasm and enrichment would spill over
and excite their students.
This summer - 25 years later - the courses include more than
2,000 K-12 teachers. They last anywhere from four days to three
weeks, and are tailored to various interests, such as dance, music,
and visual arts.
Many participants are locals and will continue a relationship
with LCI throughout the school year. But for those who travel from
other corners of the United States, and as far away as China,
Nigeria, and Kurdistan, "the arts and aesthetics make themselves
felt, even when we're not there," says Rachel Dickstein, one of
For O'Donnell and about 20 other teachers who are focusing on
theater, the centerpiece is the Chinese opera "Ghost Lovers."
They've seen it twice, and have met with its star, Qian Yi, to
discuss her performance.
That was an opportunity some of the teachers particularly
appreciated. Despite living in the New York area and having access
to cultural events, "meeting with the performers is not an
experience we'd normally have," says Carla Maggiolo, a music
teacher for grades K through 2 in the Bronx.
It's all part of the LCI approach of giving teachers an in-depth
encounter with a work of art. In the case of "Ghost Lovers," the
group first saw the piece staged with no introduction. Later, they
read about and discussed Chinese history and culture to enhance
their understanding of the opera.
They then saw it again, this time working harder to capture
nuances and thinking more analytically about its composition as a
work of art.
The second viewing was essential, says Jacqueline D'Alessio, a
language arts teacher from Bridgewater, N.J., who's been coming to
LCI for 10 years now. "The first time I saw it, I was just so
enthralled with [the star] that my eyes didn't leave her face," she