Students at St. John’s Catholic School recently spent three days working with local artists to learn drama, dance, poetry and songwriting.
Songwriter Chana Caylor, theater director Lanie Carlson, dancer Kathleen Marleneanu and poet Kai Coggin were brought to the school by Arkansas Learning Through the Arts.
Craig Welle, executive director of Arkansas Learning Through the Arts, said this is the second year the program has brought artists to St. John’s. He was accompanied by Matt Boyce, Arts In Education program manager at Arkansas Heritage.
“We’re a non-profit organization located here in Hot Springs and we supply these kinds of artists to many different schools,” Welle said, “who’s starting in the Delta now.” The program started in other schools in 2013.
“It’s very interesting because what a lot of our teachers tell us is that students wake up in some cases. Students who haven’t really been engaged, all of a sudden when you bring in a poet they perk up or when you bring in a dancer they perk up, or when involved/engaged in music they perk up, so what the arts are really good at is involving children, and we focus on literacy so that all of our programs are literacy-focused,” Welle said.
“We think the arts are a great way to…get kids to read and help them understand when they read,” he said. “As I walk around and see the work in different schools, I see us getting kids engaged in literacy and in different ways.”
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Boyce, who took office in January, said he was impressed with what he saw at school.
“I came in when Omicron was a bit of a problem for the state,” he said, noting that the program manager usually goes around the state and watches all the programs, meets with artists, directors executives, gets to know the organizations and what they do and “the great work they do in the schools”.
St. John’s is the seventh school he has visited since he started.
“This program is quite unique actually, having four artists all in the building at the same time is something I haven’t seen before — I’m not saying it hasn’t been done before — but it is the first time I’m seeing it,” Boyce said.
“I think it’s really great. Kids learn so many different art forms. It’s almost like camp,” he said.
“Not every kid will like poetry, but maybe they’ll like dance or theater and I think it’s a really unique experience for them to be able to do all of those things pretty much all day for three days, so it’s very cool,” Boyce said.
“One of the things one of the teachers said was that they were really looking forward to it this year, that they learned a lot last year and had a great experience. and that they can’t wait to be there, so it kind of becomes something for the kids looking forward to,” Welle said.
“I think, especially in something like poetry, the more they do it, the more comfortable they become, and I see part of that,” Welle said, adding that he expects the program will continue with the school in the future.
Prior to COVID-19, the program had been implemented in many schools in Garland County, he said.
“During COVID, we had a hard time getting back to schools, and so we’re now (expanding). We were at three schools in the first semester, we’re at 17 schools in the second semester, so it’s really picking up,” said said Welle.
“At one point we’ve been to every school in Garland County and we’re not quite back to all of them yet because they’re still going through protocols for COVID and that kind of stuff, but we are really looking forward to getting back to all the schools in Garland County, and I think we will, ”he said.
“I think exposing kids to the arts is important for many reasons,” Boyce said.
“First, for their creative outlets, their emotional needs, their social needs, their expression. The arts are not just an extracurricular activity, they are part of our daily lives and children must understand and learn this, even while listening to the radio or just reading a book, everything in the world around us is related to art and I think it’s an experience, especially at a young age, it opens up a lot more opportunities for them later in life “, did he declare.