Although Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is celebrating Youth Art Month this March, teachers across the district emphasize the importance of the arts year-round.
Youth Art Month was first honored in 1969 by The Art and Creative Materials Institute and is a nationally-recognized celebration of the importance of children's access to arts education.
At Culbreth Middle School, advanced acting students recently traveled with theater teacher Terra Hodge to perform at the North Carolina Theatre Conference’s Middle School Play Festival from March 10-11. Student-led groups had 45 minutes to set up, perform a story and then "strip" the stage before receiving feedback from local theatre professionals.
“It’s really getting the kids to see how theater is done outside of our school,” Hodge said.
Culbreth Middle won several awards at the festival, including an award for Hodge for excellence in directing.
Johnathan Hamiel, the K-12 arts coordinator for CHCCS, said the many positive examples of the arts for students outside of their own schools are a source of pride for him. In an upcoming event, he said, all visual arts students from all age groups will get to publicly present their artwork at the Visions Art Show, held at the Lincoln Center in Chapel Hill from April 24-26.
He also discussed the importance of music as a part of students' arts education by introducing them to professional performances.
“All 4th-grade students in the elementary school will travel to Raleigh to watch the North Carolina Symphony perform,” Hamiel said.
Hamiel said this trip is thanks to a grant for bus transportation and he said he hopes it gets students excited about participating in music in secondary school.
According to Hamiel, a grant from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation allowed for professional development for all elementary arts teachers last semester. These teachers are also able to apply for the PSF grant specifically for materials or performances.
Deb Cox, an art teacher at Carrboro Elementary School, used the PSF grant to fund an all-school arts project on the ocean and pollution.
“All the students, kindergarten through 5th grade, are creating a different aspect of the ocean,” Cox said.
She said the project is an educational piece bridging science and arts.
Hodge said she wants to give her students a non-judgmental place with their peers to be adventurous and explorative. She also said representation is important in the arts and that students can feel more comfortable if they see someone else who "looks like them."
“Students step out of their comfort zone and dare to do something that seems a little bit scary, but understanding that, ‘I never know what I can do until I try,'” she said.
Hodge said one student athlete saw several shows the theater program did and decided to audition for their next show, "High School Musical."
"I was like, 'This is very similar to your life,'" she said. "You know, an athlete that has this hidden talent that no one has seen just yet. And he did awesome in the show, and built his confidence about being on stage doing something that was different from what people knew him to do."
Similarly, Cox said she appreciates providing art materials for students who may not have the financial resources at home to do so. As a teacher, she said she gets to see students grow from first experiencing creative activity to having art connect them to future lifelong passions.
Cox said she saw a young student in particular “come out of his shell,” and discover a passion for design and engineering through drawing.
“It was like then he connected to all the other things, then he connected to science and math because he started to see how all of that can be very connected into what his passion was,” she said.
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