History, math, science – sometimes everyday curriculum can be difficult to grasp for elementary school students. The concept seems unfamiliar or too far removed from everyday life to grasp. But when a student becomes an integral part of dissecting and reconstructing it in a different way, the ability to connect with curriculum concepts is more within reach. This is the idea behind two recent Chatham Arts Council Artists-in-Schools theater residencies with EbzB Productions, founded by Serena Ebhardt and David zum Brunnen. The residencies took place at Pittsboro Elementary School and Bonlee School, and proved to be successful tools in bringing history, math, science, language, and dramatic arts curriculum to life.
“This program provides a great way to reach kids who need other ways to learn – they need movement,” said Serena Ebhardt, the “Eb” in EbzB. “Some kids need to sing it, move it, feel it. Dramatic arts are the best way to get lessons to these students, who are less responsive in a traditional classroom.”
At Pittsboro Elementary School, third-grade students interviewed local business owners to create an original production on the history of economics in Pittsboro and Chatham County. These included Mike Dasher, Jennifer Gordiano, Grim Hobbs, Brad Johnson, Greg Lewis, Nina Lloyd, Ashley and Justin Palmer, Pam Smith, and Eric Williams.
EbzB makes an effort to work cross-generationally with interviews, helping bridge the gap in the community. The interviews created an oral history and allowed the young students to make a current connection between the local businesses they know and the economics behind them. With the help of EbzB and their teachers, students transcribed their interviews and worked together to create an educational performance called “People Make the World Go-Round,” sharing with an audience of peers and parents all they’d learned about supply, demand, wants, and needs throughout the three-months.
“Third grade is a year that has a lot of focus on tests, tests, tests,” explained Dara Platon, a participating third- grade teacher at Pittsboro Elementary School. “This program offered students a way to be creative, let loose, be interactive – but still get the history, language arts, and economics curriculum they needed to master.”
In addition to diving into the specific curriculum at both schools, EbzB conducted intensive workshops for weeks with the students to ensure they learned the basics of performance art. Students went through warm-up exercises from meditation, to physical and vocal warm-ups. Some students commented that their favorite part of the preparation was practicing how to avoid being distracted. As students held their position, focusing on a chosen spot in the room, Serena or David would slowly weave in and out through the students, working hard to distract them with funny faces or gestures. But the students had been taught very well how to recover from a distraction by breathing deeply and re-setting their focal point. This preparation was essential during their performances in front of parents, siblings, teachers and other students–and it can transfer to focus in other areas.
Bonlee School’s residency was with fifth graders and focused on technology. Through their interviews with Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry and Siler City Mayor John Grimes and the culminating performance, students worked to absorb information relative to their curriculum in a real and meaningful way. “Not only that,” Serena expressed, “but the process plants seeds through dramatic arts that grow over time.” Anyone watching their culminating performance, titled “Use Technology for Good – It’s Your Choice” could see their enthusiasm for the content, and for dramatic performance.
“The EbzB Production residency was student and community-driven,” said two participating teachers, Taylor Mushrush and Stacie Perry. “Students enjoyed conducting interviews with community members and extending their learning beyond the classroom setting, while practicing listening, speaking, and writing skills. It was a great experience.”
The Chatham Arts Council is able to bring professional artists into Chatham County schools because of our partners: Chatham County Schools, Chatham County, the North Carolina Arts Council, and a growing crew of businesses and individuals. It’s a collaboration that is incredibly worthwhile, exposing students to artistic forms that they may not otherwise encounter. For many, the arts are an incredible outlet where children can flourish and feel successful.
A HUGE thank you to our sponsors for powering this initiative in these two schools. The EbzB theater residency at Pittsboro Elementary School was powered by The Kindred Gallery at the Rosemary House B&B. The residency at Bonlee School was powered by Briar Chapel Friends and Neighbors.
We’re hoping to expand the AIS initiative to Chatham Charter School, Willow Oak Montessori, and Woods Charter School in 2020 to reach every public elementary school in Chatham County. Can you help us? We hope so! If you’re intrigued, click here.