New Milford Alumni Takes Schools "beyondEducation"
Alexander Diaz, bergenPac's Education Director, offers schools premiere arts education classes while giving students a chance to cultivate their art from veteran artists.
Walking into the office of Alexander Diaz, bergenPac's Education Director and a 2003 graduate of New Milford High School, is like finding yourself backstage right before the curtain goes up on opening night. That frenetic “The Show Must Go On” energy resonates throughout the office. Phones are ringing, people are rushing around and there’s paper everywhere.
When Diaz came on as bergenPac’s Education Director he wanted to expand the reach of the arts into area schools. His vision was to deliver to North Jersey students top instruction in musical theater and dance to their schools while also giving them the opportunity to attend master classes by artists headlining at bergenPac, such as Dionne Warwick and the Filipino Dance Company.
"In piloting the program, the goal was to create a learning environment that would enhance all levels of talent while cultivating the enthusiasm and creativity that defines the arts," Diaz said.
To accomplish this goal, Diaz returned home to New Milford to forge this pilot program between bergenPac and New Milford High School. The partnership he proposed was immediately embraced by Superintendent Michael Polizzi, a man Diaz credits with having "incredible vision."
"Superintendent Polizzi immediately understood the importance of the beyondEducation partnership in further cultivating the arts programs already in place," Diaz said. "He understands the importance of the arts in enhancing and enriching the educational experience."
In New Milford High School, the beyondDance program is a partnership that sends bergenPac dance instructors to the high school where students are taught creative movement in classes ranging from hip-hop to ballet, tap to jazz, modern to ethnic. Those students who participate in the dance program are eligible to opt out of gym class. Part of New Milford’s dance program includes the students performing at bergenPac’s “Beyond Dance” that will premier June 10 at bergenPac.
According to Diaz, the school partnerships are the biggest key to bringing attention to arts education in school districts. “The programs offered by our partnership enhance and compliment the school’s existing arts education curriculum.” For Diaz, the partnerships offer the perfect marriage between education and the arts.
Since piloting the partnership with the New Milford school district, Diaz has expanded it to Paterson School 5 and the Roberto Clementi School, also in Paterson. At Roberto Clementi, the partnership has music teachers working with the school to help them form a choir.
There are also performance partnerships in Englewood with Dwight Englewood, Dwight Morrow and the McCloud School, and DEO Middle School in New Milford.
The partnerships offer:
Artist-in-Residencies for Grades K-12: bergenPAC’s professional and experienced teaching artists will customize a curriculum focused on a specific art form that complements any academic subject area. These programs are offered both during and after school:
- Voice & Diction
- Musical Theater
Student Directed One-Acts for Grades 9-12: bergenPac staff teaches students how to design, direct, and manage a production from start to stage teaching them leadership skills and the importance of teamwork. Final projects take place in bergenPAC’s Drapkin Family Cabaret Room.
Diaz is currently working with the students of New Milford High School on “One-Set Showcases"--a series of acts directed, produced and managed by the students that they will perform on the cabaret stage at bergenPac.
beyondStage for Grades K-12: Students are given the opportunity to visit bergenPac and experience the magic of live theater while expanding their cultural learning, understanding and listening skills. The classes include "Master Classes & Artist Talks Back" that feature performing artists sitting down with the students and discussing their craft, and the "Technical Shadowing & Internship Program" for students who want to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain.
Since initiating the partnership program, bergenPac has charged Diaz with expanding its beyondEducation program. In addition to the beyondDance program, there will also be beyondStage, beyondRecording and beyondTheater. Diaz said that in addition to offering educational opportunities for the students who participate, these programs will also serve to provide quality programming to families and children who come to see the performances of the students in these classes. Through these performances, Diaz hopes to further stimulate learning in young children while kindling creativity and fanning the fires of imagination.
In addition to his responsibilities as Education Director, Diaz is currently directing and producing “Children of Eden” for bergenPac; a work that he describes as "an old play with comtemporary touches.” Many of the roles in this production will go to those students who currently participate in the educational programs.
With an eye to the future, Diaz hopes to further expand the music program to include instruments, group jam sessions, form a bergenPac Orchestra, jazz group and choir to be showcased during feature performances at bergenPac.