Arts Education for Pandemic Times

Adapting learning and engagement programs for area schoolchildren 

By Jennifer Wilson

Photos courtesy of Walton Arts Center


Under normal circumstances, Walton Arts Center would have welcomed busloads of students from area schools for its Colgate Classroom Series performances, artist talkbacks, workshops and other educational activities in 2020. 

While that wasn’t possible due to COVID-19, it also didn’t stop the learning and engagement team at Walton Arts Center from finding new ways to engage with students. 

Last fall, the team started offering in-person venue tours for small groups of students and community groups. With participants masked up for safety, these socially distanced tours offered students a chance to learn more about the arts-presenting industry in addition to standing on the main stage and touring the backstage area. For larger groups, the tour was adapted to a virtual format and offered to area educators who collaborate with Walton Arts Center on a regular basis. 

The learning and engagement team also surveyed local teachers to identify the virtual arts education content that would be most helpful for their students. 

“Based on the response from teachers, we will be offering a variety of options – from a full-length show recording for elementary students, to a performance that’s been divided into segments with accompanying lesson plans, activities and artist information geared toward middle school students,” says Sallie Zazal, director of learning and engagement.

Starting this month, four virtual performances will be offered on-demand through the Colgate Classroom Series for all school groups. “With these new platforms, teachers will be able to incorporate the adapted content into their curriculum in ways that work best for them,” says Zazal.

Two performances are ideal for Pre-K and lower elementary students. “Join the Band: Music Making for One and All” is a video series by Dan and Claudia Zanes. The shows will introduce young patrons to lively songs and stories while providing creative ideas to help find their way inside the music. The programs are uplifting and interactive – part concert, part history lesson, part music class, and part sing-along dance party.

“The Snail and The Whale” is a 60-minute performance inspired by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved picture book. The program also includes interviews and conversations with the artistic team and actors. 

Two additional titles will help bring history to life for older students. Syracuse Stage’s “Resiliency” is a video series about Annie Easley, a Black woman who worked at NASA for 34 years. Initially working on airplanes, she soon realized her destiny was to be on the team of mathematicians working to launch the Centaur Rocket into the Space Race. Annie’s resiliency is a personality trait that helped her to succeed despite adversity. 

Students will experience portions of the show “Commanding Space: The Rise of Annie Easley and the Centaur Rocket,” where they learn from the actor and playwright, and participate in art-based activities designed to help students find and cultivate their own resiliency tools.

“Layer the Walls” is a video series that explores stories of an apartment in New York City that was once home to hundreds of new immigrants. Puppeteers help bring to life the stories of the Irish, Italian and Jewish families who once lived there – and the stories that shaped the America we know today. 

Teachers and homeschool leaders can register their class for an upcoming Colgate Classroom Series performance by contacting For more information, visit 



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