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Newman Center Reimagines Educational Programming

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Nika Anschuetz





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With gestures and body movements, Luke Wachter teaches students music composition. It’s called soundpainting. For Wachter, it’s not about good or bad – it’s about the creative process.

“I couldn’t care less, ultimately, what the music sounds like,” Wachter says.

Determined to implement arts education on a wider scale, he stepped out of the classroom at Denver Public Schools and into the halls of the Newman Center for Performing Arts as the associate director of educational initiatives.

It’s a new role for the Newman Center under the leadership of executive director Aisha Ahmad-Post. And six months in, Wachter is expanding the center’s partnership with DPS.

Through a student matinee series, students not only see a Newman Center Presents show, but also learn first about the cultural background. The Newman Center partnered with Think 360 for Arts, a Denver-based arts education collective, and in tandem created class curriculum.

“We found teaching artists who are authentically creating in those communities,” Wachter says.

The Newman Center has created three curriculum modules available for free online. And while the modules focus on three artists, the curriculum stands alone. It explores cultural backgrounds as well as elements of social emotional learning.

“It goes beyond just history,” Wachter says. “It’s a whole child approach to curriculum development.”

Musical Explorers, a partnership with Carnegie Hall, was reimagined too. The program highlights three artists of different global musical cultures. In the past, the artists were New York-based. But this year, two of them are from the Denver area.

“It’s really important to highlight Denver artists to validate our cultural scene,” he says.

The Musical Explorers curriculum is for DPS second-grade students. For each artist, the student will learn the cultural context of the work, songs and dance. And in April, through an interactive experience at the Newman Center, students will perform with the artists.

The Newman Center is also providing professional development to teachers at DPS. In a pilot program with Columbian Elementary, Wachter is helping teachers connect their curriculum with an art lens focused on project-based learning.

Project-based learning, Wachter says, more authentically replicates real-world thinking and problem solving in the classroom.

“Rather than just giving students a series of steps to complete and hope they learn something along the way, you start with the end goal and plan backwards,” he says.

As a former DPS teacher, Wachter brings expertise and empathy to the partnership. For Amy Martinson, who oversees music curriculum at DPS, Wachter’s familiarity with the school system has strengthened the collaboration.

“I know that any curriculum or program that he does, teachers can use it,” Martinson says. “He knows pedagogy, how to teach things, so the lessons make sense.”

Wachter stepped out of the traditional classroom but stepped into an even bigger one, bringing  2,300 DPS students along for the ride.