Thursday, February 21, 2013

Washington Daily News: Teachers study Freedom Riders to pick up new teaching techniques

Teachers study Freedom Riders to pick up new teaching techniques

A group of Beaufort County teachers spent a portion of Thursday learning how to incorporate the arts into school lessons.

Held at the Washington Civic Center, the workshop was an introduction to “The Parchman Hour,” a play that will be performed for high school students March 14. That night, a free and public production is slated

The play was funded by a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council.

Serena Ebhardt conducted the workshop. She has a role in the production. She was trained as a teaching artist by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts.

Ebhardt said the workshop had the dual purpose of preparing teachers to teach a unit about the upcoming play and to show them ways of using audio, tactile and visual methods of instruction to make lessons accessible to all types of learners.

“I’m here today to teach a workshop on how to teach dramatic arts. Art serves as a platform, a foundation. It’s not disposable,” she said. “The North Carolina Arts Council wants people to understand that art is as important to everyday life as medicine, as history, as science.”

The North Carolina Arts Council made it a goal to bring more arts to eastern North Carolina, Ebhardt said.
“They’re basically giving this as a gift to the community and it’s an educational and artistic experience,” she said.
Northside High School band and chorus teacher Ashley Kuhns said she attended the workshop because she believed in arts education. She enjoyed Ebhardt’s methods.

“It’s a unique way of approaching learning from open discussions centered by a common artifact about an era in American history,” she said. “The questions and conversations could go on and on.”

“The Parchman Hour” tackles the subject of civil rights. The play is about the Freedom Riders who rode buses from Washington, D.C., to Louisiana in 1961 to test the 1960 Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation in interstate public facilities.

“They were bullied, beaten and almost killed,” Ebhardt said. “And they were thrown into a camp called the Parchman Farm before reaching the destination, New Orleans.”

Washington High School teacher Andrew Shue said Ebhardt’s workshop and the material was fantastic. He already uses some of the techniques Ebhardt shared.

“I love using the comments and pictures … and need to do more of it,” he said.
The Freedom Riders reminded Shue of his students.

“You’ve got kids who are 18, 19 years old in the Greensboro sit-ins, and Martin Luther King said he was inspired by them,” he said.

If teenagers of that generation could inspire one of the country’s most influential people, Schue said, he wondered aloud about the students he taught.

“There’s so much untapped potential. What can we do to tap it?” he said.

Joey Toler, executive director of the Beaufort County Arts Council, said he has been organizing the event for about a year. In addition to the $9,000 grant to bring the production here, Toler said grassroots funding would cover transportation for schools in neighboring counties to come to Washington and see “The Parchman Hour.”

“We’re working with Washington County to bring their 11th- and 12th-graders and with Hyde County to bus all of their kids in and it’s taking a village to get them all here and coordinated,” Toler said.

The arts council funds annual arts events for students. Toler concentrates on a different age group each year, and he sought something that would be appropriate for teenagers. He is currently in the planning stages of bringing a production for middle school students to see and will plan something for elementary school students next year.

Toler saw a showcase of “The Parchman Hour” more than a year ago.
“It’s very powerful, very effective,” he said.