Rural Ohio Schools Defy Size and Geography

Students in taiko robes with drums

Percussionist Eric Paton taught students at Mississinawa Valley Elementary School the art of Japanese taiko drumming. Students made the drums before learning the rhythms and techniques.

Think "extraordinary arts education partnerships." Chances are a big city school district will come to mind. After all, big cities and the arts go together. But what about small rural schools situated an hour or more away from the nearest urban center?

Three Ohio schools are showing that size and location need not limit opportunities for K-12 educators to work with the arts community.

Mississinawa Makes Its Mark

An Arts Partners team from Mississinawa Valley Elementary School (Mississinawa Valley School District) went to an OAC Promoting Creativity conference looking for an idea. After talking with percussionist Eric Paton and seeing the Dublin Taiko Student Group demonstrate traditional Japanese taiko drumming, the team began planning a taiko workshop immediately.

The school's size and rural location played a major role in the decision.

"It's hard to compete with larger school districts in sports and band," says Principal Lisa Wendel. "We wanted something unique. We also liked the idea of exposing rural kids to another culture."

Paton, a musician and educator specializing in percussion from around the world, spent two days working at the school with music teachers, a classroom teacher, the principal and a group of 15 fifth- and sixth-graders. Students first stretched rawhide over large drainage tubes to make their own drums while Paton taught them the history of taiko and its role in Japanese culture. Then they began learning the highly disciplined rhythms and positions of taiko.

"We selected students for the group based on their rhythmic abilities rather than on their academic performance," says Wendel. "With this experience, students practiced twice a week and became more motivated and disciplined." She noted that one boy who was always an uninterested student assumed a leading role in the group and even started teaching himself Japanese.

Mississinawa Valley Elementary has been recommended for funding for a two-week residency with Eric Paton through the OAC Artist in Residence Program for 2007-2008. Wendel says lessons will include some more advanced taiko rhythms, as well as physical education components to address the muscle coordination required in taiko stances.>

Miami View Adds Jazz to Learning

In a small community that has lost music teachers due to budget cuts, Miami View Elementary School (Southeastern Local School District) used an arts partnership to keep high-quality music experiences a part of students' lives. Dr. Sara Suver, the school's principal, worked with Judy Shafer, director of education for the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus, to plan a two-month artist residency project with jazz artists from the Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC). She says the Arts Partners grant, combined with support from the GCAC, enabled Miami View to create a sustained, high-quality arts learning experience.

Students watch a jazz saxophonist

Jazz musicians showed Miami View Elementary students the power of their art form.

Two groups of teaching artists—American Jazz Experience and Jazz for Kids—performed at school assemblies, conducted classroom workshops for preK through grade 8 and provided a professional development session for the entire faculty. The teaching artists worked with the district's middle school band, culminating in an evening performance for families that featured both students and professional artists. Also, teachers took 180 fourth- through sixth-graders to the Southern Theatre in Columbus to see a performance by the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.

"The teaching artists were phenomenal," says Suver. "They taught students about the history of jazz and explained its structure and components. It was interesting to see how they made the same concepts discussed in the teacher professional development session understandable for the preK and kindergarten students. And the kids were like sponges. When the artists returned for the second workshop, the kids remembered what they had learned in the previous session."

Botkins Art Students Build Community

An Arts Partners grant enabled Botkins High School (Botkins Local School District) to offer a five-week watercolor workshop with Jane Paul Angelhart, a nationally known portrait artist. Angelhart worked with students on their individual projects, demonstrating her techniques for painting realistic watercolor portraits. Visual art teacher Dan Knepper says working with Angelhart motivated students to invest more time and energy in their art. The resulting paintings reflected the extra effort.

Students with the Beach Boys

Dan Knepper and his students pose with the Beach Boys after painting surfboards for them.

Providing such extended opportunities to work with accomplished artists is one aspect of Knepper's larger strategy—exposing students to the world of working artists. He also works with business and community partners to broaden students' experiences in the arts marketplace. Community groups have invited students to paint murals in various locations. One class painted surfboards and later presented them to the Beach Boys. Another group joined students in band, choir and a technology class to create a video for a contest sponsored by Pizza Hut—an experience in the interdisciplinary creative work often demanded in today's job market.

Botkins students who are members of Something Creative, the school's creative arts organization, also participated in another real world challenge—helping to host the first annual Botkins Sculpture Invitational. The exhibition featured over 50 artists from all over the country.

Community leaders are excited about the possibilities, says Village Administrator Michael VanBrocklin. "Yes, activities like the sculpture exhibition are a great way to generate commerce and market the community. But that's not the point," he says. "The arts have a benefit beyond the economic value. Rather than viewing the arts as a luxury, we should incorporate them into the fabric of the community."

This article was published in June 2007, Volume 3, Issue 2.

Read about other artist residencies in Ohio schools.

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Editor: Deborah Vrabel
Contributors/Advisors: Mary Campbell-Zopf, Ohio Arts Council
Nancy Pistone, Ohio Department of Education