Extended visits to Rochelle Middle School by a poet and a sculptor this semester are adding to the depth of the school's art-infused curriculum.
Poet Glenis Redmond of Greenville, S.C., spent a week earlier this month working with students and faculty and will return in March for another week-long visit. Installation sculptor Jane Horner of New Bern spent last week helping students create a sculpture that will be dedicated in April.
The artists residency is made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council to the Community Council for the Arts in Lenoir County. The local arts council has worked frequently with Rochelle staff over the past five years, since the school became part of the A+ program, an N.C. Arts Council effort to help a school shape its curriculum around the arts as a way to engage students.
Sandy Landis, executive director of the Community Council for the Arts, said the current residency was in the planning stages for more than a year and evolved out of a collaboration between her and Rochelle assistant principal Derrick Wiggs and music teacher Fabrienne Kittrell, Rochelle's A+ School coordinator. "One of the things they were really looking for is something that could incorporate language arts," Landis said. "What we were looking for is a way that we could really get the non-arts faculty engaged in the process."
Last week, Horner worked with students in art teacher Sarah Sloop's classes to create "talking sticks," which have a history in American Indian culture. Branches of a crepe myrtle or other species are decorated in various wraps -- leather, fabric, beads, feathers and other materials -- as a way of personalizing them and making them, as the artist says, "self-portraiture."
"This is your voice," Horner told students as they experimented with wraps in an effort to make their talking sticks unique. The talking sticks are to figure into a student performance in April and a single sculpture is to be shaped from the students' individual work.
Redmond is honored nationally as a poet and teaching artist whose work draws inspiration from her life, her family and her African-American heritage. During her first-week visit to Rochelle and on her return next month, language arts students under Redmond's tutelage will be writing what she calls "poems of origin," particularly the form known as praise poetry.
"Praise poems are an indigenous poem form that is used in pretty much every culture around the world," she said. "It's an affirmational poem form. it's a way to say positive things."
Between her two weeks at Rochelle, Redmond is conducting writing workshops and a Black History program in the Middle Eastern country of Oman.
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