Katie Lambeth, ’13, brought her love of dance and a desire to contribute to the common good to University of Richmond in 2009. She left four years later with an understanding of how to incorporate dance into school-enrichment programs, a determination to address education inequities, and a job with Teach for America in Hawaii.
A Minnesota native and public health major, she began exploring education the summer after her freshman year through a study-abroad program in Peru led by political science professor Rick Mayes.
“While working at El Arca Orphanage in Cusco, Peru, I noticed the kids were always singing,” Lambeth said. “So another volunteer and I started a children’s choir. I was struck by how excited the kids were about this program.”
Eager to learn more about the connection between the arts, education, and child development, Lambeth took Children and Mental Health, a Sophomore Scholars in Residence course co-taught by Mayes. She fulfilled the course’s community-based learning component by volunteering with children with autism at a local school through the Richmond Families Initiative, the University’s civic-engagement program focused on children and families.
Next, Sophomore Scholars amplified their community involvement by creating and implementing projects that addressed community needs.
“Dr. Mayes told us to do what we’re good at and what we like to do when designing our community projects,’” recalled Lambeth, who has been dancing since she was three. “He yelled out to the class, ‘Katie’s going to dance!’”
Lambeth and classmate Mary McDonnell, ’13, who loved theater, decided to volunteer at Henderson Middle School through Build It, the University’s neighborhood-based civic-engagement program. Together they launched Dance Drama Revolution, an after-school arts program, at the inner-city public middle school.
Lambeth connected her work at Henderson to both her Sophomore Scholars class and WILL, the University’s nationally recognized gender-and-diversity program.
“WILL emphasizes equality of opportunities for everyone,” said Lambeth, president of WILL her junior and senior years. “A lot of Henderson students don’t have the opportunity to take arts programs. Mary and I were helping to fill that gap.”
The two women continued teaching Dance Drama Revolution at Henderson their junior year, long after fulfilling their Sophomore Scholars course requirement.
Lambeth had another valuable experience in a school setting during a study-abroad program in Nairobi, Kenya, her junior year.
“I visited the Kibera School for Girls, located in a concrete building surrounded by tin shacks and huts in Nairobi’s largest slum,” Lambeth said. The school offers a tuition-free education to girls living in poverty.
“The school employs Kenyans who teach in a culturally sensitive way. It has a great sense of community and makes a point of involving the students’ families. Kenyan doctors and nurses run the community health clinic at the school.
“My study-abroad experience connected to my major by giving me the chance to see how public health works in Kenya,” Lambeth said, adding that it also gave her insight on how to improve her dance program at Henderson Middle School.
“While in Kenya, I observed the programs offered by different nonprofits,” she said. “I saw how much better programs work when they match what people want and desire.
“I connected this to my program at Henderson where I’d been teaching jazz and lyrical dance. The girls kept saying, ‘Let’s do hip hop.’ So I decided to teach hip hop my last semester of senior year. They loved it.
“My community work has shown me that schools need better programs and people who are passionate about helping kids. I became more passionate about educational inequities and social justice every year I worked in the community, whether volunteering in a Peruvian orphanage, in a school, or with a WILL-sponsored community project.”
Next stop for Lambeth: Hawaii, where she will teach high school special-education classes in English and reading as a Teach for America corps member, coach sports, and teach dance after school.
Photo: Katie Lambeth demonstrates a dance move during an after-school program at Henderson Middle School.