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Stepping Up: Kelsey Jean-Baptiste ’18

An Ursinus College junior is investigating the effects of dance education on K-12 students nationwide, with particular emphasis on children-at-risk. 

For Kelsey Jean-Baptiste ’18, dance is more than a hobby or an extracurricular activity. It’s an outlet for creativity and expression. In many ways, it defines her. 

This summer, the Ursinus College junior and Brooklyn, N.Y., native is aiming to provide diverse perspectives on how dance effects learning through her Summer Fellows research project, “All They Want to Do is Dance: A Study of Dance Education in K-12 Public Schools.” 

“I feel that dance helps students with math, science, and other core subjects,” Jean-Baptiste says. “A lot of schools are cutting funding for arts programs and that’s upsetting to me. I read so much about teachers who say they have students who come from a dance class, go straight into a math class, and are motivated because of dance. The motor’s still running and they’re still thinking and they want to process because they have all of this creative energy.” 

The research includes an analysis of past and current national studies that look at the effects of dance education within the K-12 school setting. She is working with her Summer Fellows faculty advisor, Karen Clemente, a professor of dance at Ursinus College. 

Jean-Baptiste, an active member of the Ursinus College Dance Company and the college’s Escape Velocity dance troupe, says she is proof that dance can motivate the mind and body in other subjects. 

“I’ve danced ever since I was six years old,” she says. “I didn’t do well in math, but I realized that when I started taking dance classes before math, it helped me. I wanted to learn more, I was thinking more, and I was participating in class more.” 

Jean-Baptiste, who is a double major in dance and media/communications studies, is exploring on-site dance curricula and practice in selected Philadelphia K-12 public schools. During the spring 2017 semester, she’ll expand her project to help incorporate dance into school curricula. 

Ultimately, Jean-Baptiste hopes to create an arts school where students can connect the performing arts to their academic work. “I feel like a lot of young people, including at-risk youth, can really benefit from a school like that,” she says.