An artists-in-residence program that brought a poet and a sculptor to Rochelle Middle School earlier this year inspired poems, interpretive dance and a unique art installation – all of which were on display Friday during an event at the school that celebrated the program’s success.
As much on display, as visible as the sculpture students created or as obvious as the pride in their voices as they read the poems they wrote, were the intangible benefits of connecting a school with people who regularly wrestle an inspired idea into a work of art through perseverance and problem-solving.
“Through this partnership our students, who may not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with or be exposed to professional arts, received hands-on and ‘up close and personal interaction’ with experts who have successfully traveled a path our students may wish to take,” drama teacher Fabrienne Kittrell told the small audience on hand Friday.
Kittrell spoke specifically of the grant-supported residency that allowed students to work with poet Glenis Redmond for two weeks and visual artist Jane Horner for a week. At the same time she spoke generally of Rochelle as an A+ School, unique in Lenoir County for its arts-infused curriculum – which Kittrell coordinates – and its special partnership with the N.C. Arts Council and, locally, with the Community Council for the Arts.
“From the data, we know the A+ School program is one that encourages not just creative thinking, but critical thinking as well,” Sandy Landis, executive director of the Council County for the Arts, said.
Landis’s organization, with the help of Kittrell and Rochelle assistant principal Derrick Wiggs, wrote the $13,000 Arts-in-Education grant that made the artists’ residency possible.
“We covered a lot of ground,” Redmond remembered in reviewing her weeks at Rochelle for an audience that included LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams, state Sen. Don Davis (D-Greene) and Lenoir County Commissioner Linda Rouse Sutton.
“The first thing we wanted to do with the students is have them look within,” the poet said, explaining some of the “poems of origin” she read from a 64-page compilation of the students’ work and those read by their student authors.
“I am not running for freedom/my ancestors did that/so I can run for my future,” a stanza of one poem reads.
“I am tall like a high note/where I come from,/they love music and poems/that have bright messages/and meanings,” read a few lines of another.
One poem of Redmond’s inspired Jennifer Worsley’s dance class to choreograph their interpretation, which the students performed for Friday’s visitors.
Though silent, the installation of “talking sticks” – an artifact of Native American culture – that Sarah Sloop’s art classes created with Horner were as much about self-expression as the poetry, the sculptor said.
“I wanted students to find their voice,” she said, remembering classes in which students wrapped branches with fabric and other materials and decorated them in ways that made each unique. The finished installation, which is now mounted in the school’s media center, “has strength,” Horner said. “It’s a way of saying things that can’t be said with words, but it can be felt.”
The artists-in-residence program involved language arts, science and the arts departments at Rochelle.
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