SPARTANBURG, S.C. (courtesy converse.edu) — Some say teaching is an art. A handful of Converse arts professors say teaching art comes naturally to artists, anyway. So they created—then won— one of Converse’s highly competitive Creativity, Community, and Cultural Enrichment (C3) grants for an outreach program that lets Converse arts students teach underserved elementary schoolchildren.
“As I was looking at area schools to begin conversations about collaborative experiences for Converse music students, the principal at Mary H. Wright Elementary School happened to be looking for the same things,” says Dr. Susie Lalama, Assistant Professor of Music Education in the Petrie School of Music.
Indeed, he was. “The partnership is a perfect match,” says Dr. Marc Zachary, the school’s principal.
The grant brought Converse art, theatre, and music students to the Spartanburg District 7 elementary school to facilitate weekly lessons throughout the spring, serving about 150 first- through fifth-graders in the Boys & Girls Club after-school program there. The school is designated as Title I Priority because its students come from low-income families.
Arts at Work: A Community Outreach Project, as the Converse C3 grant is known, provided $3,000 for art, music, theatre, and dance supplies that were incorporated into the lessons. The Converse students used children’s literature as inspiration, turning to a variety of authors and artists as subjects during their half-hour sessions that ran from 2:30 to 6 p.m.
“Principal Zachary understands how stimulating the developing brains of children with music and the arts can help them develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills,” Lalama says. The project also benefits students at both schools with transferable problem-solving strategies that will serve them throughout life. Converse students kept portfolios of lesson plans and of brainstorming notes from meetings with faculty.
“Our 12 pre-service clinical art teachers have loved working with Mary H. Wright students and getting their feet wet with planning, motivating, and instructing during the after-school period, which is a bit different from the regular classroom,” says Dr. Susanne Gunter, Chair of the Department of Art and Design.
The feeling is mutual. “You should see the faces of our kids when Converse students come to campus,” says Zachary. “It’s exciting to see the impact this is making in the lives of our children.”
Natali Servando is a fifth-grader who, as the program was getting underway in February, was looking forward to the theatre sessions that would begin in April. “It’s really fun to get to be in musicals at Mary H. Wright and to be involved in the arts,” she says. “I get to express myself in different ways, like body motions and facial expressions. I had been in little bitty plays at church, but our plays at Mary H. Wright give us more people to perform in front of and to show people what we can do.”
The project placed an intentional focus on impacting the children. “Thinking first of the needs of the students at Mary H. Wright and then providing Converse students opportunities to share their knowledge and arts education with others can invoke positive changes for people in our community,” says Lalama.