Students throughout the county added a little swing to their steps last week, thanks to the efforts of the Stokes County Arts Council which brought the Mars Hill University Bailey Mountain Cloggers in to perform at five local schools.
“They are 21 times national champions,” said Arts Council Director Eddy McGee. “They travel the world and we were able to bring them up here to present and work with the kids.”
The group performed a number of dances for students at King, Mount Olive, and Walnut Cove elementary schools as well as at Piney Grove and Southeastern Stokes middle schools, before teaching a couple of steps to the students, getting them up off their feet and moving.
“It is not just entertainment,” said McGee. “We want to encourage active participation.”
The cloggers are just one of many arts enrichment programs brought into the county school system by the arts council this year.
“We try to give the schools options at the beginning of the year,” said McGee. “Some of the options this year included the Winston -Salem Symphony, the Healing Force, which is an African-American drumming group, the North Carolina Marionette Theater and some UNC School of the Arts programs.”
Many of the traveling performing arts programs brought into the county each year also supply supplemental curriculum material.
“They send us those resources ahead of time and we share them with the teachers,” said McGee. “It helps them to structure curriculum and coursework around the performance. For example, the North Carolina Marionette Theater program was based on Blackbeard so the teachers were getting information on Blackbeard and also about what marionettes were made out of.”
“Then we provide in-school support for band, visual, arts, chorus and theater,” he added. “At North Stokes for instance the school system dropped theater this year so we picked that up with student led productions like ‘May the Farce Be With You’ and ‘The Gift of the Magi,’ and are supporting ‘Beatles Dream’ at South Stokes.”
McGee said the Arts Council also provides support for visual arts instructors at the county middle and high schools and some funding for students at all levels to take field trips to visit exhibits and see performances.
“Whatever the schools can come up with is what we try to help them with,” he said. “We spend well over $10,000 each year and it is completely worth it. Sometimes it also involves a lot of sweat equity, but the kids and faculty end up being inspired.”
McGee said the county had a some very talented visual and performing arts instructors, but said the Arts Council felt it was important to supplement those talents with an investment in the county’s students.
“These kids are our present and future,” said McGee. “These programs encourage the use of creativity and imagination and problem solving skills. It will benefit them for the rest of their lives. This is why we have chosen for the schools to be one of our focus areas. We also try to promote senior arts and programming for special needs children and adults.”
That investment is some what unique to Stokes County, said McGee.
“This does not happen in every county,” said McGee. “There are rural counties that don’t even have an arts council or that do not have resources that work to bring arts into the schools.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.