The Juilliard School and PBIS: Music education and academic success in perfect harmony

A collaboration with the prestigious NYC performing arts conservatory gives PBIS students of all ages creative confidence and brighter futures.

Morgan Childs

Written by Morgan Childs Published on 15.08.2023 17:00:00 (updated on 16.08.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Sheonagh Donaldson says she’s jet lagged, but it doesn’t show. Sheonagh serves as the Europe Regional Lead for Nord Anglia Education’s partnership with the Juilliard School, a unique collaboration that enhances performing arts education at Prague British International School (where she also works as a music teacher) and Nord Anglia Education schools around the world.

On a Zoom call fresh off a trip to the U.S. to work with the team at Juilliard and teachers from NAE schools, the Scotland native claimed to be struggling to reacclimate to Central European Time, but she lit up when speaking about the collaboration. “It's a really important part of our school as well, so it's nice to be able to share it,” she said, all smiles. 

Prague British International School, or PBIS, prides itself on offering a “holistic” educational experience for children from preschool through the college-preparatory International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.

Its collaboration with Juilliard, the prestigious performing-arts conservatory in New York City, began as a pilot program launched in conjunction with its parent organization, Nord Anglia Education, in 2015. The success of the partnership is reflected in the numbers: Nord Anglia has since expanded the program to approximately 70 schools worldwide, reaching over 50,000 pupils.  

Each school in the partnership operates according to its own curriculum, informed by a methodology established by the Juilliard performing-arts conservatory and with guidance from curriculum specialists in dance, drama, and music.

At PBIS, students not only receive opportunities to act in a play or learn a new instrument; they are also led through exercises that allow them to inhabit the roles of composers and choreographers and create original works of performance art.

The biggest plus you can give your kids is to allow them to keep going with their arts education, even if they don't then go on and study it later on.

Sheonagh Donaldson, Europe Regional Lead for Nord Anglia Education’s partnership with the Juilliard School

The students are then invited to compare their processes with those of established artists, a process that Sheonagh says strengthens children’s metacognition – their awareness of their own ability to learn and process information – as well as provides them with an outlet for creative expression.  

“If you are investing in the performing arts, it does give you an all-round ability,” Sheonagh said via Zoom. “It's proven to improve your overall scholarity.”  

The benefits carry through the pre-university years, too, she argued, regardless of a student’s career ambitions. Sheonagh said that she counsels parents who may feel ambivalent about the performing arts that “the biggest plus you can give your kids is to allow them to keep going with their arts education, even if they don't then go on and study it later on.”

Engagement with the performing arts reflects highly on students when it appears on their university applications, helping them stand out in a crowded pool of prospective students.

“If you have studied music or theater or dance into your final years of high school, that can only be a plus to your university application,” Sheonagh said, adding that engagement in the field indicates that a student possesses both personal motivation and an ability to work well with others. 

As the program enters its eighth year, teachers receive regular high-quality training and support from curriculum specialists in New York. Juilliard representatives provide online “thought partnership” to educators, offering feedback and support tailored to each school’s individual approach, and pay visits to schools across the Nord Anglia network for in-person co-teaching sessions.

Juilliard really becomes the best support textbook you could ever imagine,” Sheonagh said, laughing. 

But the real gains belong to the students, who, according to Sheonagh, come away from the program with the ability to think critically and to express themselves with confidence.

“I always say, ‘What I want you to take away is not just, Oh, I can play a little bit of guitar, or I can play a little bit of keyboard,’” she said, “‘but being able to say, ‘I enjoy listening to this piece of music and this is why.’” 

This article was written in cooperation with Prague British International School. Read more about our partner content policies here.

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