By Sarah Bloom, Times Reporter
Children of all ages are about self-expression whether it is in the form of song, dance or art they strive to show their own individuality. It is safe to say that the willingness of a child in Kindergarten to step forward and bravely showcase their talents is much greater than or bolder than say a fifth grade student who is tentatively beginning to enter the “grown-up” world.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for students to be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take part in a singular class that highlights their individual talents in such a way that even the most conservative or shy child is happy to step forward and take part. Students and parents alike need look no further than the new Literacy through the Arts programs of the Powell County School District.
With the close of the 2008/2009 school year the area elementary schools were facing the dilemma of having to do away with their art and music classes due to lack of funding. Diane Davis, Title 1 Coordinator for the Powell County Schools, discovered their saving grace in the form of a grant that was obtained through Title 1 as part of a fund given to the states by the current President, Barak Obama, entitled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Since Title 1 funds are intended for classes pertaining to reading, writing and math, Davis developed the idea to establish a program that would enable the schools to continue with their art and music classes, but in a different manner.
By essentially combining the art and music classes, Davis pioneered a new idea for a classroom environment that would highlight the four arts: music, dance, drama and visual arts as well as stick to the required curriculum. Thus the Literacy through the Arts Program was born.At the Clay City Elementary School, Principal Susan Miller approached then second grade teacher Jessica Begley Hall and music teacher Teresa Ramey with an offer to take on this new idea.
Hall, well known for her beautiful singing talents, has taught at Clay City Elementary for several years. She held a Kindergarten class for five years, taught second grade for one year, and also taught fourth grade for one year. Ramey has been the music teacher for thirteen years. With their combined talents they were a perfect choice to headline the new program. Miller took her suggestion to Davis and the new
“Literacy through the Arts” class for Clay City Elementary was officially underway.
“Children really need time outside of reading, writing, and arithmetic and they need to be exposed to the arts,” Davis said, “Through this program we are supplementing Literacy through the use of arts.”
The basis of this program is to reinforce and build upon the lessons the teachers are working on in their classes. Hall and Ramey are in constant collaboration with the teachers on lesson plans. They take a weekly plan and implement the use of one of the four arts into each day. Hall stated, “With this program we have a certain amount of flexibility in what we are able to teach, whereas a regular classroom teacher has to adhere to a strict lesson plan, we are able to pick and choose which part of that plan we want to highlight. For example if a teacher comes to us and says that their class is struggling with a certain area such as rhyming words we will devise a lesson plan implementing one of the four arts to reinforce what the teachers have been trying to get across to them.” The first grade classes recently had a rhyming square dance that not only brought in the art of Appalachian dancing, but also reiterated the fundamentals of rhyming.
Another example of this innovative class is the use of song to enhance reading comprehension. The second grade classes were reading the book “Officer Buckle & Gloria” and teachers had related to Hall that the students were struggling with remembering the main idea and basic details of the story. Hall took that information and turned it into a lesson that required students to take the concepts and ideas of the story and write them into lyrics to the tune of “Jingle Bells”. Hall reported that by the conclusion of that project the students were certain they had a best seller on their hands.
“I have seen the confidence and self-esteem of these children grow since the beginning of this year,” Hall said, “these children are learning basic life skills such as confidence and behavior has never really been an issue in this class because the children truly love it.” Hall also went on to state that she has witnessed students who were previously painfully shy actually come forward and participate in these interactive lessons. “Every child can shine with this program,” stated Hall. Hall and Ramey do not give out grades in their classes, but the progress is reported directly back to the teachers.
The current funding for this program is for only two years which would carry it through the end of the 2011 school year. If the funds can be obtained the program is set to continue. In closing Hall proudly said, “To our knowledge there is no other program really like this in Kentucky, it is innovative, and one of a kind.”