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ALTO Residency Program: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the Santa Fe Opera’s “Active Learning Through Opera” (ALTO) program?

From its early origins as a program focused on student-produced opera, the ALTO mission has evolved into bringing all art forms into the classroom. Teaching artists give students creative tools in their art form, and students engage in a creative process to make art that expresses their understanding about something else they are learning in school. So, the purpose is to develop students’ appreciation and skills in an art form as a means of communication.

What exactly is a residency?

A residency, as ALTO defines it, is a series of planned educational experiences for students that result in an artistic product which demonstrates their understanding about a connected curriculum idea.

How long does a residency last?

The standard ALTO residency is five sessions long. Usually each session is one hour, or one class period. The sessions may be on consecutive days in one week, or they may be spread out over two or more weeks. Teachers and ALTO teaching artists agree on the number and length of sessions in the residency planning meeting held in advance.

Who pays for the residencies?

Thanks to generous contributions earmarked for the Education Department of the Santa Fe Opera, the ALTO program currently pays all costs associated with hosting a residency. In some cases, schools provide materials or photocopies from their budgets to augment the residencies.

Who leads residencies for ALTO?

Every ALTO teaching artist has been selected because they are not only an expert in their art form, but they have demonstrated skills in leading classroom sessions with students. Our current roster includes teaching artists from the fields of drama/theater, dance, poetry, and music, and we maintain an active search for new members for the roster.

How are ALTO Teaching Artists trained and evaluated?

Before presenting a residency in a classroom, teaching artist candidates participate in extensive training, and they also participate in ongoing professional development after joining the roster. Topics and tasks include a deep understanding of the arts integration approach to teaching, multiple modes of presentation and multiple means of student responses, current New Mexico educational standards, and new developments in brain research and educational best practices.

What are the responsibilities of residency host teachers?

Host teachers are required to participate in a planning meeting with the requested teaching artist and ALTO staff, and to complete an evaluation at the conclusion of the residency. During the planning meeting, teachers may also agree to assist with certain aspects of the sessions, such as distributing materials, documenting student work, and leading reflections or extensions on the lessons.

What are the benefits of hosting a residency? For students?

Research has shown that the arts integration strategy, which mixes hands-on learning with deeper inquiry and connection-building, creates ideal conditions for learning. Arts integration levels the playing field for children, no matter their previous experience, their perceived artistic skill, or their socioeconomic background. Arts-integrated lessons result in self-motivated, self-confident students who know how to find answers and solve problems creatively.

For teachers?

Teacher feedback is overwhelmingly positive after residencies. One benefit is the golden opportunity to step back from actively leading the class and to observe how students respond to the creative challenges teaching artists pose for them. Another is seeing how they can present particular classroom content through an artist’s lens themselves, gaining new teaching skills. And the sight of children’s excitement and joy at learning in this way is reward in itself.

For families?

Participating in low-risk, high-reward residency activities not only engages students, but it tends to result in students taking school home with them. In response to the age-old question, “What did you learn in school today?” students taking part in residency activities often surprise their families with a detailed, excitedly-given rundown of their creative successes, instead of the usual “nothing” reply. Children have a chance to discover new sides of themselves, and to share those facets with their families, in a way that drudging through a workbook does not invite. And caregivers are welcome to attend one or more residency sessions, especially the culminating events, giving them a direct connection to the classroom.

teach and students
Multicolored handwritten text by children muchas gracias
kids moving around in classroom
theater with glowing lights at night with hills in background

For more information, please contact:

Charles Gamble
Director of School Programs