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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Sixth-graders at William Penn Elementary practice dance at the East Millcreek school Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. Arts funding will be a concern during the upcoming legislative session.
When I first went to the Legislature, they thought the arts were fluff. They don't feel that way any more. —Lisa Price

EAST MILLCREEK — Sixth-graders at William Penn Elementary all bow to a fellow classmate with a cry of "There's a king!"

Then come the proud nobles, the battling knights and the hard-working peasants.

This is no textbook lesson in the classroom. These students are studying the feudal system in the gym and they are dancing their roles. The arts class goes hand-in-hand with their core curriculum.

"It's a good way to learn stuff, not just sit down and have somebody talk to you," student Jacob Johnson said. "You can do actions for it to help you remember it."

Their teacher, Lisa Price, was moving along to the medieval music with them on Tuesday.

"We do science, we do math, we do language arts, social studies. We do it all and it's really amazing because it really helps," she said.

A surprise visitor, Beverly Taylor Sorenson — the founder of Friends of Artwork for Kids — sat smiling as she watched the activities.

"When I first went to the Legislature, they thought the arts were fluff. They don't feel that way any more," she said.

The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, which creates a teaching partnership between an arts specialist and classroom teachers, is now in 55 Utah schools and 30,000 students participate in visual arts, music, dance and theater. Sorenson remains passionate about continued funding from the Utah Legislature. Again this year, the program needs $4 million.

"I don't worry, I don't live in fear about lawmakers turning us down, I have hope," Sorenson said.

She loves children and believes the program delivers an important message.

"And that's what I want them to know, that they are special and they're somebody and they deserve the best," Sorenson said.

A recent study indicated that 100 percent of the principals in participating schools report that the program has had a positive effect on their students, Sorenson said, adding that 84 percent report improved test scores in core subjects.

The students say they really enjoy the creative process but they also appreciate what it teaches them about life skills.

"We use the life skill of flexibility. If we forget something in the dance, we can just improvise and then do something that we already know," student Maisyn Christiansen said.

Sorenson has already began talking with legislators because she said she has plans to expand the program into even more schools.

Because they have literally danced the history, teacher Jana Shumway says it stays with them.

"The kids go home and tell their parents we danced this today and I have the parents tell me about dance all the time," she said. "It's the thing they remember. It's the thing they love doing because they experience it.

"They're out of their seats and they're living it."

E-mail: cmikita@desnews.com