The Castle

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It's easy to think of the "town-gown" relationship between DePauw and Greencastle as something that involves philanthropy or other charitable events. Professor Beth Benedix, however, has recognized the need for an even more important and lasting link between the two - one that involves not only advancing learning in Greencastle schools, but also providing unique teaching opportunities for DePauw faculty and staff.
Since spring 2012, the Putnam County Coalition for Education and the Creative Arts - commonly called The Castle - has provided an opportunity for faculty and students from DePauw to use the creative arts in a public school classroom. The Castle is still in its pilot stage, with programming this semester in Fillmore Elementary School and Greencastle Middle School.
Benedix, a professor of religious studies at DePauw, founded the program, which seeks to provide creative programming from artists of various disciplines in Greencastle schools. While The Castle is a newer program, Benedix's family of experienced teachers and educators have influenced her passion for public schools and the arts.
"I'm always trying to find the way in, something that grabs people," Benedix said. "Public school was always important, then I became part of the Campus Planning Committee [for DePauw]."
On the committee, Benedix looked at the relationships between Greencastle residents and DePauw students. When Benedix heard about 826 National, a San Francisco-based movement that provided creative arts centers to underprivileged children in the San Franscisco area, she envisioned similar programming in Greencastle. While Benedix originally considered mirroring the 826 model of a center for the creative arts, she realized it was more important to get programming into the schools. After interviewing local teachers, Benedix found her idea to be well received.
"So many teachers were talking about how morale is low, and they want to bring joy back into the classroom," Benedix said.
According to Benedix, the most difficult, and also most important, aspect of The Castle is upholding "curricular integrity" during the weekly workshops. She wanted to make sure the program encouraged students to think creatively while continuing to uphold the required core state standards.
For each school, one coordinator serves as a liaison between teachers in the classrooms and instructors to ensure that workshops are both creative and educational. The Castle seeks to motivate students to combine creativity and individuality with their learning of disciplines like math and science.
Junior Caitie Adams has been involved with the organization since its creation and has helped Benedix brainstorm better ways to incorporate the program into DePauw life.
"This [program] is important not only because it feels good to do it, but also because it needs to be done," Adams said. Benedix also believes in the importance of incorporating DePauw students into the Greencastle community.
Currently, The Castle programming includes a weekly workshop from visiting artists, usually DePauw faculty and students. The sessions have ranged from American Idol-inspired presentations, to famous astronomers, to songwriting, to theater, to pottery.
Two DePauw professors, Debbie Geis and Tim Good, led an acting workshop at Greencastle Middle School last spring on Boalian theatre. Since Boalian is an informal theater style with more freedom in form and no spectators, the students began the workshop with warm-ups. To correspond with students' focus on "anti-bullying," Geis and Good had the middle schoolers form human sculptures that represented bullying. The students were then asked to form a solution.
"The goal was to move from comfort to challenge," Geis said. "None of [the students] were afraid to participate."
Geis also praised the student helpers involved with organizing all these small groups, such as junior Shani Glover.
"The middle schoolers came up with really intriguing scenarios and multiple situations in response to how they would address bullying in their schools," Glover said.
Glover and other students helped to lead many of the activities and facilitated discussion about the negative effects of bullying in schools. The activities gave both participants and instructors freedom to be spontaneous.
Benedix emphasized the importance of instructors using their art naturally to help the students feel comfortable. In turn, the genuine connections that students make to the workshops will provide the most beneficial learning opportunities.
"What we want is people being authentic in the classroom."
Geis emphasized the importance of the student helpers who organized the small group activities. This one example represents the commitment on the part of both faculty and students from DePauw donating their time and energy to this cause.
"It's all volunteer, so it's just the goodness of people's hearts," Benedix said.
In the future, Benedix hopes that DePauw students who volunteer with The Castle will receive curricular credit since it can provide an opportunity to gain valuable teaching experience for those studying the arts. Her immediate goals also include expanding into South Putnam High School, so she can follow the students who are already experiencing the program throughout their public school career. She hopes to continue to take advantage of the opportunities that DePauw offers as an institution, as a place for both learning and teaching.
"I just see it as an opportunity to create a community that's already here," Benedix said.