A Greater Purpose of Fine Arts

by John Holt on Apr 21, 2017

in Our KIPPsters

*This will start a monthly series highlighting Feinberg Beyond Z Grant Winners that are either in the process or have completed their project.

Avital Stolar, KIPP CONNECT Middle School’s founding theater teacher, applied for a $10,000 Black Box Feinberg Beyond Z Innovation Grant to create a performance space during the 2015 winter break holiday. Her vision for the grant was to provide an opportunity where students could build a space that they could consider their own.

Selected for the grant in March 2016, the performance space was created during the Summer Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) Camp 1.0. The initial section of the camp featured Avital’s sixth grade class completing an in-class project using math and engineering skills to determine the materials needed to build their Black Box construction goals. “We wanted students to realize that everything they learn in class has a greater purpose outside of standardized tests,” Avital said.

The second section of Summer STEAM was a multi-day camp where students collaborated to paint walls, build audience platforms and railings, sew curtains, connect lighting trussing, and hang and connect lights. Avital’s goal has been to create an arts program where students are not only performers but also playwrights, directors, technicians, and designers of each original theatre production. “As students take ownership of their own creativity and artistic product, it is crucial that they are also integral in the creation of their own performance space,” she said.   

During the final section of the camp, students were taught how to operate technical elements of the new performance space. Benjamin and Brittany Garmon, a pair of St. John’s School technical theatre directors, met with Avital and provided her in-depth knowledge of the lighting and sound equipment. They also trained her on the operation and maintenance of each system, which she later passed along to her students. “I had them come in, look at the room and help me define the audience space as well as the type of lighting we needed to fill the space,” Avital said. “That advice was critical to creating this.” 

Previously, the middle school had only been able to rent lights for one week before each theatre production. Yet during the summer, with help from the KIPP Houston operations staff and nearly 30 students, the performance space was finished and ready for the opening day of classes last fall. “When we returned to school in August,” Avital said, “the students came in and were in awe.”

As the grant funding has ended, Avital and others from KIPP CONNECT are finding ways to do more fine arts fundraising to keep the Black Box in top condition. She has shared her experiences with other art teachers in the KIPP Houston community and is thankful her vision has come to fruition.

“Creating a professional performance space has helped students view the fine arts with the same level of importance as their core curriculum classes,” Avital said. “Students feel a sense of ownership over their school and are leaving a legacy for future KIPPsters.”


We’re excited to announce our five 2016-17 Feinberg Beyond Z Innovation Grant Winners! We can’t wait to see the outcomes for these newly announced grants!

KIPP CONNECT Primary, Aryn Rapp, Science Teacher
This will be an after school enrichment program where 3rd and 4th graders will be able to design, build, and test robots.

KIPP Houston High School, Anthony DeLeon, Social Studies Teacher; David Garner, Social Studies Teacher
This grant will help train Social Studies teachers in the authentic facilitation of Project Based Learning (PBL) in 9-12th grade social studies classroom.

KIPP Courage, Eric Schmidt, School Leader; Mor Regev, Social Worker
We will purchase novels that complete homeroom curriculum based on diversity and character development. The goal is to help students possess a strong identity of themselves and appreciate others.

KIPP Northeast College Prep, Sara Boone, Art Teacher; Diana Rubio, Counselor
The grant will help us create a program that will provide upper level ceramics course, small counseling groups through clay therapy, and integrate mindfulness into school culture through annual sales of ceramics with proceeds being donated to charity.

KIPP Houston High School, Lela Whigham, English Teacher
We will transform the senior's lounge into a learning commons where students will be able to hold group discussions, use quiet nooks for independent reading/work, activity space for project work complete with supplies, bookshelves with literature/reading materials that may be checked out, two desktops for research/online library, etc. Students will be able to utilize this space as an open library.