Middle school is a period marked by intense change. To help young people from the local community navigate this stressful time, Stonehill College’s performing arts students partner each year with preteens attending West Middle School in Brockton, Massachusetts, on an initiative called Dance Outreach. 

Throughout the 2023 program, Stonehill students met every Monday in the Sally Blair Ames Sports Complex to teach participants lessons on dance technique and the fundamentals of movement.  

“Movement benefits us in many ways. It helps reduce our stress, increase our focus and strengthen our memories. Dance is a great way for us to accomplish all this while also deepening our creativity,” said Valerie Robertson, an assistant professor of dance and director of the Stoneworks Dance Company

Robertson has overseen the Dance Outreach program since 2008. Under her leadership, it has evolved in various ways. 

“I’ve adapted the class to incorporate my interests in the brain-body connection,” the faculty member said. “I’ve taken classes on how movement influences brain development, and I try to implement that in our curriculum.”  

Robertson did that this year through Brain Dance and Brain Gym, two methods of movement that help reconnect the mind to the body. During each class, students performed both exercises to help reorient and awaken their bodies, followed by breathing and stretching exercises to help them wind down.  

Left to right: Dance Outreach facilitators Meaghan Nyhan '24, Bella Cerretani '25, Julia Henriques '23, Megan Swezey '24, Jaymie Johnson '23 and Morgan Morris '23

Regina O’Connor, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at West Middle School, believes it is important for the kids at her school to learn from older college students who have been through some of the same things they are currently experiencing. 

“On the days that we go to Stonehill, the kids are a lot more excited in school, and you can just tell they feel good about themselves and that they are a part of something,” she said.  

During each session of this year's program, the Skyhawks took turns leading the class, allowing them to not only strengthen their management skills, but also explore their own creativity. Special education major Megan Swezey ’24 has especially benefitted from this unique opportunity.  

“It’s been helpful to learn how to adapt to students’ needs,” she said. “I love seeing when they have that light bulb moment when they finally get a step. Knowing I helped them get to that moment makes the experience so rewarding for me.”  

Every semester, the Dance Outreach program culminates in a final showcase. This year’s event included lyrical, hip hop and contemporary performances. Each student displayed the different types of movement they learned through the program, while also enjoying the freedom to add their own twist to various dance moves. 

Psychology and dance double major Meaghan Nyhan ’24 said she will carry the lessons she has learned from the program with her as she continues working toward her goal of becoming a dance teacher. 

“It’s been exciting to help these students find their confidence through dance,” she explained. “It made me feel like I was making a difference.”