The ongoing pandemic has impacted everyone, but maybe kids most of all–so many months of not being in school, not interacting with friends in person, and just not being able to engage in the world as kids, in general. Now they’re back in classrooms, and the 2021-22 school year is bringing us all hope. Here at the Chatham Arts Council, we’re practically giddy that our Artists-in-Schools Initiative is back inside the classroom!
“The pen is mightier than the sword” and “poetry is word magic” were scrawled across the top of a white board, as poet Phillip Shabazz kicked off our 2021-22 Artists-in-Schools season at JS Waters and Woods Charter.
Phillip led a series of two-day workshops, where he encouraged kids to think outside the box, connect with their core beliefs, and draw on their own personal experiences to improve their writing.
“Imagination is an unlimited gift we call art. Everywhere you look is art.
Even science, even math, is art.”
–Phillip Shabazz, JS Waters residency
Students took turns reading out loud from poets like Nikki Giovanni, Shel Silverstein, and 2Pac Shakur.
Once their creative juices were flowing, it was their turn to write!
Phillip engaged the kids with a Poetry Challenge. He gave them title prompts to choose from:Things I Like, Without You, Windows, Pet Poem, The Magic City, A Rainbow, I Remember, Little Things, Fall Poem, A Friend, and Happiness. The kids had six to eight minutes to write their masterpieces, with Phillip’s help.
And these kids had a lot to say. The students were invited to share their work during a class open mic session. We were blown away by what we heard from these inspired (and inspiring) kids. Some wrote eloquently about pets, friends, and rainbows–all topics you would expect from 10-year-olds.
Also though, in this year of so much uncertainty, many wrote about loss, grief, acceptance, and recovery. There were smiles behind masks, tears that couldn’t be hidden (by any of us), and a sense of connection through shared experiences.
By encouraging these kids to write from their hearts, and giving them tools to help find their voices, Phillip showed them how to express their feelings through art–a talent many didn’t realize they possessed. “Everything is a word, and words make us whole,” according to Phillip, and we got to witness that in these workshops.
“They were really engaged. I saw kids get excited about writing that don’t normally think of themselves as writers. We’re thinking about doing a poetry corner and posting the work because it’s really so good. They’ve surprised me with it,” one fifth-grade teacher at JS Waters told us.
So many kids wanted to share their deeply personal work that every session ended with hands still raised and time in too-short supply. The kids left the classrooms discussing poetry, making up rhymes, consoling those who shared great loss through their poems. The grown-ups left the classrooms knowing we had just witnessed the power of art.
“Keep writing. You are the future voices of this country. Make sure your voice is heard–whether you’re in the city or the country. Make your life a work of art.
Make the best out of yourself.”
–Phillip Shabazz, JS Waters residency.
Our JS Waters residency was powered by The Women of Fearrington. Our Woods Charter residency was powered by the R.E. and E.F. Crane Foundation. Both organizations understand that kids who have access to the arts can apply what they learn across all curricula. We offer our deepest thanks to them for powering our efforts.
The Chatham Arts Council could not bring professional artists into Chatham County schools without the help of our partners: Chatham County Schools, Chatham County, and the North Carolina Arts Council.
We’re working to expand the Artists-in-Schools Initiative with a goal of being in every single school in Chatham County, every single year, by 2025. Click here to be part of this artistic endeavor–and all our Arts for Resilient Kids efforts.