Litchfield melds art, education at SDSA
For some teachers, the “job” is so much more than a job. It is more like a passion or a calling, even. That’s definitely the case for Mary Litchfield, third-grade teacher at Southern Delaware School of the Arts. She not only teaches a grade level she loves and enjoys the students, she feels right at home teaching at a school with such a focus on the arts.
Litchfield, recently named SDSA’s Teacher of the Year, said it means a lot to have the recognition.
“It’s an honor. This is a great school. I’m such a part of the school, and the school is such a part of me. It’s an honor to be Teacher of the Year at SDSA.”
Litchfield always knew she would either be a teacher or a dancer; she just didn’t know she’d get to do both. She taught third and fourth grades at Lord Baltimore Elementary School before hearing about the prospect of this new school, and she has been with SDSA since its inception, 11 years ago, teaching dance and third grade.
“I have a background in music and dance, and I thought it sounded like an exciting philosophy. I thought, ‘It would be awesome to work there,’ and it is!”
In the past few years, the school has hired a full-time dance teacher, and Litchfield now works on mainly classroom instruction. Most recently, she helped behind the scenes with the school’s production of “Beauty and the Beast Junior,” a production she said was “awesome.”
Litchfield’s two sons have been at SDSA since first grade and now are in sixth and eighth grades, attending through both elementary and middle-school grades, like many of the students that attend the school. It is this continual education with the same teachers and peers that makes the school seem very much like a family, she said.
“There’s a group of eighth-graders that are leaving this year that we are so attached to,” she said. “In that time [from first grade on] you really get to see them blossom and excel.”
SDSA students follow the standard curriculum and testing that all Indian River School District schools do, but instead of “specials,” such as gym or library time, all of their additional classes have an arts focus.
In first through fifth grades, they take one class each of vocal music, instrumental music, dance, drama and visual art for 50 minutes each day. Once the students are in sixth grade, they can choose to have “flex” time and add 30 minutes of a specific artistic subject that interests them three times a week. In seventh and eighth grades, they choose majors and minors to try to really narrow down what their individual interests are.
Litchfield said the confidence and the self-esteem are added bonuses that each of the students takes away with them after an SDSA education.
“They are willing to take risks because it’s a safe environment. They adapt to public speaking easily. Some children might not otherwise experience being on stage. You wouldn’t think of my son being in a dramatic performance, but he did it and had one of the lead roles. It’s wonderful that we get to tap into that talent, and they just blossom. They really take ownership of the education and their school.”
“Students here have a lot of pride, they are excited to come to school,” she continued. “There’s an energy, and you can feel it. As teachers, we come ready and willing to make their opportunities the best they can have. Because this is an art magnet school, [and students have to apply to get in] they made a choice to be here. And we have made a commitment to give them the best. The teachers here are very dedicated.”