In September, we celebrated Arts in Education week and Angela, our current AmeriCorps VISTA, wrote an amazing editorial that was featured in the Delta Democrat Times–Because it was so amazing we wanted to share it with you!
When I reminisce on the joys of my childhood, I think of how much I enjoyed spending summers at art camp, painting figures of my imagination on a canvas to proudly take home to my family, or the smell of the ballet studio accompanying the butterflies in my stomach from anticipation to let free on the old wooden dance floor. I remember taking piano lessons at Ms. Brown’s home, practicing scales while being lectured on forgetting my notes from not doing my homework. I remember arguing with my mother on not wanting to play the flute in 6th grade, but being pushed to do so allowed me to find a passion for playing for the rest of my grade school career. Although I was a Political Science major, I went through college drawn to the “artsy” crowd, fascinated with the art forms that I never personally took part in, finding an unknown respect for talented individuals performing their own poetry or music at local cafes. Art is what created and molded my perspectives on life thus far, allowing me to see, hear and feel other people’s perspective on the world – their world; and gave me a healthy way of expressing my own perspective. It made me realize that everyone had a story.
I didn’t know what to expect coming straight out of college from North Carolina to the Mississippi Delta. Of course, North Carolina is the South, but Mississippi is a deeper level of southern. I came with an anticipation to experience art in every form that told a story – a story about the blues and how it all started, the pain and struggles from slavery and segregation in Mississippi, the joys of spending summer evenings catching a Delta sunset over the beautiful flat land, or that unmistakable southern hospitality. I was curious to experience it all – painted on a canvas, dramatized on a stage or sung in song.
I came to the Delta understanding that Mississippi was ranked last in the nation in education, and that the poverty in some areas of the Delta was comparable to places in other countries. When I began my term as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member at the Greenville Arts Council, I was able to witness these issues first hand. Many children come from negative environments, environments where expressing yourself outside of violence or anger isn’t encouraged. If many students didn’t have the opportunity to participate in art activities at school, they wouldn’t be given the opportunity to creatively express themselves otherwise. I can’t imagine my life without having that opportunity.
In July 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring the week following the second Sunday of September as Arts in Education Week to draw attention to arts education in schools. I‘m honored to draw that attention to the Greenville Arts Council, a partner of the Greenville Public School District through the Greenville Arts Partnership that is focused on full arts integration in elementary schools. The Greenville Arts Partnership was the first in the state of Mississippi accepted into the Kennedy Center Partners in Education Program in 2003, joining over 100 other partnerships between school districts and arts organizations across the country.
As a result of this programming, during the 2011-2012 school year all Pre-Kindergarten through 6th grade teachers at Western Line and all Kindergarten through 5th grade teachers at Greenville Public attended GAP professional development and over 3,000 area children attended GAP sponsored arts experiences. And, as wonderful as the GAP is, Washington County art teachers deserve just as much recognition. The arts are essential to every child’s education, and without our wonderful art teachers in Washington County, our students would be missing a crucial benefit to their intellectual, personal and social development.
If it weren’t for being exposed to the arts early on in my life, my outlook and understanding of the world wouldn’t be as broad, and I wouldn’t be able to understand others who are different from myself. Art gave me an outlet, and it allowed me to see the world through other’s perspectives. Thank you art educators, Greenville and Western Line School districts, and volunteers, for your passion and dedication to the arts and allowing the children of Washington County to have those same opportunities to express themselves creatively while gaining an understanding of the world around them. They each have a story to be told, and they deserve to tell it.
– Angela Eustache, AmeriCorps VISTA