Many principals and PTAs are excited about bringing the Artists in Schools programs to their schools. But Principal Kathy Hartenstine was particularly happy when The Beast visited her school, Baileywick Road Elementary School, recently.
Including an extra program into the school day certainly can be hectic. There are scheduling adjustments and a room to set up. Hartenstine was setting up extra chairs in Baileywick’s multi-purpose room herself minutes before The Beast’s performance was to begin.
And then the children came. And it got louder. And louder. And they kept filing into the room through a door which sometimes took them into their cafeteria, sometimes their gymnasium, and some days, like today, their multi-purpose room was transformed into a stage.
Fifteen minutes after the performance was scheduled to begin, the children were finally settled. The teachers and Hartenstine, still smiling and remarkably un-frazzled, made room and time for each child.
Finally, Hartenstine addressed the audience, making note of the seating arrangement. While most of the students were sitting on the floor, some students were sitting in two long rows of folding chairs in the back of the student body.
“Fifth graders have a special place of honor here today” Hartenstine explained to the suddenly hushed group, after a few principal tricks to quiet the room. “Because you never know where life may take you. And one of you sitting in the chairs may end up on a stage like this one day. Just like one of the young men up on the stage here who I taught when he was in 5th grade.”
The children giggled with excitement at the thought. It was hard to tell if they were thinking about their principal as a teacher, the men on stage as 5th graders, or themselves as adults. But something clearly had resonated with them.
Hartenstine went on to explain to the school assembly that Peter Kimish, bass player for The Beast, had been very good at math when he was in her 5th grade class.
Hartenstine spoke with control, but her enthusiasm was clear. She had rescheduled The Beast’s performance at her school for a day she could attend, after having to miss the performance the previous year due to a principal’s retreat. She did not want to miss this year.
“I want the kids to see the connection between math and music.”
To Hartenstine, the Artists in School program is important because she likes to show kids there are multiple ways to express creativity.
In a conversation about the upcoming performance by The Beast, she also emphasized the important connection between cultural literacy and reading.
“With this student population (approximately 60% free/reduced lunch), kids don’t get these kinds of professional music experiences.”
“It’s a way to hook in background knowledge for them. If a child is reading, having an experience with the word ‘jazz’ helps the student remember what jazz is. Reading comprehension improves with these experiences.”
Lead singer Pierce Freelon (also a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill) used the word jazz quite a bit. It was difficult to distinguish between the learning and the fun at this interactive performance.
“Does anyone know what type of music originated in this country about 100 years ago?” he asked.
Hands went up with a variety of responses from hip-hop to rock n roll, and finally, one student responded, “jazz.” Freelon asked the kids about jazz, talked about jazz, and they played jazz. Repeat for storytelling, spirituals, and hip-hop. The hook. These children could absolutely understand and discuss some major musical genres, as well as the historical background, and emotional ties to those genres after 45 minutes with Freelon and The Beast.
“What does it mean to have the blues? What’s an example of something that made you blue?” Freelon waded into the crowd to hear some answers. He knelt down low to put the microphone in front of one small, child seated near the front: “Chasing my lost dog in the middle of the night.”
“When my stomach hurts,” another one responded.
Expressing creativity. Expressing themselves. Empathy. Understanding.
The band members seem to know something about these concepts. Like Kimish, all of the band members are local to the Triangle. “We remember having these types of experiences as kids. This is kind of a way to pay it forward. It’s special to come back to the places we grew up, like going to Pete’s elementary school or seeing his 5th grade teacher, like today,” said band member Mark Wells.
And what does Kimish remember about 5th grade with Kathy Hartenstine? “She was creative and she really challenged us.”
Hartenstine is still bringing creativity and challenging content to students all these years later, now as a principal. With cooperation between the school PTA and United Arts’ Artists in Schools program, these types of creative avenues to learning can continue. The program allows for professional artists and students to connect and make connections between new ideas in a very unique way.
Hartenstine understands the importance of these experiences. She wants her 5th graders and all her students to understand it. Because you never know where life will take you.
by Karla Heinen, Communications Coordinator