A Pflugerville teacher is using a grant to make the arts more accessible to her students

Lindsey Surles is one of eight recipients of the Texas Cultural Trust’s First Year Teacher Grants and she is using the funds to defray the cost of a dance-focused tip for her students.

By Becky Fogel, KUTDecember 19, 2023 9:30 am, , ,

From KUT:

Lindsey Surles started dancing when she was just 3 years old and she hasn’t stopped since. She was part of her middle and high school drill teams before joining the Kilgore College Rangerettes.

The Rangerettes, formed in 1940, were the first women’s precision drill team in the world, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Being a part of the storied dance team afforded Surles some unique opportunities.

“I danced all over the world — in Italy, England, New York — all of the places,” she said.

Surles is now the assistant director of the Weiss High School Scarlets, a varsity dance team within the Pflugerville Independent School District. She wants to help her students see the different ways dance can be a part of their lives even after they graduate, so she decided to apply for a grant for first-year arts teachers from the Texas Cultural Trust.

“A lot of our students want to continue to pursue dance in lots of different facets and sometimes they’re not always financially able to, and they don’t necessarily see that there are pathways that they can achieve that,” Surles said. “I wanted to give them more of an opportunity to be able to see that they can strive for more and they can continue dancing even after high school.”

Nastassja Collak / KUT

Weiss High School dance teacher, Lindsey Surles, works with her students on a dance routine on Nov. 29, 2023 at Weiss High School in Pflugerville, Texas.

Surles got the grant. She and seven other teachers received $1,500 that can be used for a variety of activities from professional development and buying school supplies to funding a field trip. Surles plans to use the funding for something special: a trip to see the Kilgore Rangerettes in action.

“We’re going to take the team there in the spring to go see their spring show and our goal for that is to inspire these girls that they can keep dancing after high school,” she said.

Surles said the grant funding reduced the cost of the trip for her students, so they can all afford to go. Jenny Parry, the director of programs at the Texas Cultural Trust, said this is the whole point of the grant program: making the arts accessible to more students.

“Arts education is inequitable in Texas schools, but the impact of it is incredibly powerful,” Parry said.

The Texas Cultural Trust’s 2023 State of the Arts Report found, for example, that teachers at high-poverty schools serve 32% more students than those in low-poverty ones. Suburban schools are also able to offer 70% more arts courses than their rural counterparts.

“All of these findings point to the inequities that exist and that all goes back to that mission behind the first-year teacher grant to increase access and incentivize highly qualified arts educators to go serve the schools where they’re needed more,” she said.

When students can engage in the arts, it significantly improves their outcomes. According to the report, students enrolled in arts courses did significantly better on standardized tests regardless of family income and had higher attendance rates. These high school students were also 20% more likely to attend college and 42% more likely to go to a four-year institution.

2023 State Of The Arts Report / Texas Cultural Trust

A chart from the Texas Cultural Trust's 2023 State of the Arts Report shows how much more likely students in rural, urban and suburban areas are to attend college when engaged in arts courses.

“I think that this trip [to Kilgore College] specifically will really inspire those young dancers to consider higher education, but whether or not they continue on their education path in higher ed, I’m certain that their dance experience will help build confident, incredibly inspired and creative problem solvers moving forward into their life,” Parry said.

Members of the Weiss Scarlets said the dance team has another major benefit: it gives them a sense of belonging. Kristian, who is a senior, got involved in the team to make connections in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nastassja Collak / KUT

Weiss High School Students practice their dance routine early in the morning on Nov. 29.

“I think coming back from quarantine and everything, I wanted to be a part of something and using this team and the organization helped me make friends and become a part of [the] school more,” she said.

Kristian thinks school would be a lot more stressful without the Scarlets and dance class.

“It’s really comforting to know that we can come into this space and talk to our friends that are in the same classes or the same grade as us and know what we’re dealing with,” she said. “I know this year, especially, having a support system for college stuff has been really helpful, because I don’t know what I’m doing right now, but it’s made me feel less alone.”

Isabella, who is a junior, agreed that being a part of the Scarlets helps relieve stress and provides a “safe space to come to.” Both she and Kristian are excited for next year’s field trip to see the Kilgore Rangerettes in action.

“I think it’s a really good learning experience for everyone on the team even if they don’t want to dance in college,” Isabella said. “Getting to see other people who go out and go to college for their passion, it’s a really good outlet to go to.”

Kristian is looking forward to getting a better understanding of why Surles and Scarlets’ Director Elise Padilla — who was also a Kilgore Rangerette — are so passionate about it.

“It will help us connect deeper,” she said.

Surles said she and Padilla hope somebody on their team eventually tries out for the Rangerettes. But, either way, she just wants dance to continue to be a part of her students’ lives after they graduate because they’re talented and passionate about it.

“It’s my goal that they can see that they can major in something else but also be on a team or be in a dance club — some type of outlet for dance,” Surles said.

The next round of grant applications for The First Year Teacher Grant opens July 1.

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