The arts are held in high esteem at Mark Day School and are taught as part of the regular curriculum from kindergarten through 6th grade and as electives for 7th and 8th grades. We believe that the application of creativity benefits learning in all subjects and enhances students' education.
Our drama program nurtures expressive potential and instills confidence in one's imagination. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade take drama once a week; Upper Division students can choose it as an elective.
The first half of the year focuses on physicality: movement, stillness, creation of a character or personality through movement and bearing. Class exercises teach improvisation, poetry, and storytelling, emphasizing awareness of the body and the connection between physical expression and the mind. The second half of the year engages students in developing vocal expression and creating performances for different types of audiences. Radio ads, creation stories and myths, puppetry, performance poetry, and more—students are encouraged to dive into the possibilities.
The drama classroom is a natural laboratory for furthering the skills of social-emotional literacy: working closely with others; developing empathy; understanding, recognizing, and expressing emotions; exploring conflict within the safety of "pretend"; understanding where one struggles and where one succeeds. And the skills acquired particularly in drama are integrated throughout our academic program: Fifth graders write and perform short plays about lesser-known figures from the American Colonial era; fourth graders create trickster stories from different oral traditions around the world. By eighth grade, our students are comfortable speaking in front of their peers and teachers, and they present their work and ideas with confidence.
Spring's Lower School Arts Festival harnesses K-3's creative energy to create short performances on a single theme, such as the birth of the sun, complete with sets, costumes, and music. Outside the formal curriculum, our twice-yearly plays are big events, with roles onstage and off for all students from fourth grade up to play. Productions are mounted at the Showcase Theater at the Marin Civic Center, with professional lighting and sound. Parents lend their talent in sets, makeup, graphic design, and more.
At the heart of our music program is the intent to give every student broad exposure to different styles and to inspire them as active, joyful participants in creating and performing music. Drawing on Orff-Schulwerk and traditional teaching methods and using a variety of instruments, we impart age-appropriate skills while developing the children's sense of rhythm and musicality. We embrace many traditions, exposing students to jazz, African percussion rhythms, classical composition, and popular music.
We believe in the value of making music as a community, whether by singing together at assemblies or participating in choral or instrumental ensembles, such as the long-established Singers and our band. Our elective and after-school classes offer many opportunities to play, sing, and perform.
Our visual art program gives students broad exposure to materials, techniques, styles, and artists. More important, every child learns to think of him- or herself as an artist and to find joy in the process of self-expression.
Students in Lower School work on the fundamentals of rendering in different media, especially portraiture and understanding proportions in the face and body. They learn to work with clay, pastels, paint, and other materials. In the 4th through 6th grades, projects get longer and more technically challenging, so students learn to better control their materials and work with patience toward a goal. Work in the art studio is often a key component of what happens in the classroom: A unit on worms could be bolstered by a lesson in making different shades of brown or in creating large papier-mache worms; drama class work on traditional American Indian stories is supported by making masks in the art studio. The spring art show highlights two pieces of work by every student in grades K through 6.
Each year, the art program focuses the work of two artists to broaden students' knowledge of the art world beyond the most well-known names and genres and, when possible, coincide with local museum shows or special campus events. Among the artists chosen for study have been Marisol, Hung Lu, and William Kentridge. Upper Division students can choose art as an elective, with the focus changing every other year from two-dimensional to three-dimensional works. Large sculptures by our 7th and 8th grade students often dot the campus.