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‘Lion King’ across the curriculum

A District 75 school embraces a Disney grant
New York Teacher
Jonathan Fickies

Yanique Douglas shows off her students' habitat project.

The hallways of K396, a school for special-needs students in Brownsville, Brooklyn, were transformed into a gallery of animal habitats in March during the school’s monthly Gallery Walk. On display were colorful dioramas and poster-board illustrations of animal habitats on the African savanna, created by K–5 students using paper, cardboard, small plastic animals and even LEGO bricks.

It was the culmination of a month’s work, designed to be hands-on and interactive: Students explained to visitors how their artwork expressed what they learned in class.

If the Gallery Walk evoked thoughts of “The Lion King,” that was no accident.

K396 was one of five New York City public schools to receive a grant this year from the Disney Musicals in Schools program — and the only District 75 school among this year’s winners. As part of the program, the school has been immersed in “The Lion King” since January, using the classic Disney story as a vehicle to teach math, language, science and other subjects.

Rachel McCaulsky, the school’s dance teacher and arts coordinator, wrote the grant application with visual arts teachers Mona Doon and Emma Gluck. In the coming months, students will study family structure through the animal groups of “The Lion King,” and they will learn about the resources needed to sustain animals in the wild, McCaulsky said.

The students will also be introduced to Broadway as both viewers and actors.

On April 10, K396 students traveled to Manhattan to see the musical “Aladdin.” And the grant underwrites visiting artists who come to the school every Tuesday to teach the staff the skills and techniques they’ll need to get “The Lion King” up and running, including designing sets, organizing rehearsals and directing. More than 60 students in K–8 will be acting, singing and designing sets.

Students will present the show at the school in May, and they will perform part of it on Broadway on June 13.

“Don’t count our students out,” said Chapter Leader Kim Schuler. “Whatever their abilities may be, they can still enjoy and perform the arts.”

McCaulsky estimated the services provided under the Disney grant are worth more than $15,000. The school has set up a Donors Choose site to raise funds for costumes.

The school already embeds the arts in many of its classes. “Everything is taught through the arts,” McCaulsky said.

Paraprofessional Oslin Brathwaite called the experience “something out of this world.” “I always loved ‘The Lion King’ when my children were young,” Brathwaite said. “The kids and parents are all excited.”

See more photos in the gallery »