Jun. 15—East Bernstadt Independent School looks to inspire growth and learning to students through its summer enrichment program that brings in different artists and educators through the Berea College Partners for Education GEAR UP grant.
The program kicked off for the summer this past week, June 6-9, with the first artist, Yolantha Harrison-Pace, who brought with her the art of West African Dance, along with knowledge of the African American, Cherokee and Arapaho cultures.
"I think from just an overall life skills perspective, it's good for [the kids] to see what's out there," Reghan Hedrick, East Bernstadt's college and career navigator, said. "Just to open their eyes to different opportunities and hobbies that they might have down the road."
Hedrick said that the summer enrichment program is a new one, created to curb the lack of experiences students were able to have while the Covid-19 pandemic shut down or altered most of the country for around two years.
"We realized over the last few years with Covid the learning loss was evident, particularly with reading and math," she said. "We wanted to focus on that and help catch those kids up during the summertime."
It was then that Berea Partners for Education reached out with a list of artists and educators to partner with the academy, and allowed East Bernstadt to schedule different types of instructors throughout the summer ranging from blacksmiths to the aforementioned West African dance instructor.
While it would be easy to miss the connection between Pace's African dance lessons and the learning gap surrounding reading and math, Hedrick supported the unorthodox methods in hope that it can help more students connect and understand the material in a way that works for them.
"Some kids may not connect with reading or science, but they can connect with music and art," she said. "For them to have that throughout their schooling is really important."
Instead of counting and patterns, students were able to learn beats and music to learn the same lesson, banging percussion sticks and traditional African drums in a way that kept them engaged and excited to learn.
Similarly, while reading comprehension with young children may not always include the sovereign nations of Africa, Pace taught the students to sound out words that may seem harder when put together, instructing students to say the names of different countries along with the beats.
Students could be heard chanting 'To-Go' (Togo) with a simple 1-2-1-2 beat, followed by 'Zim-bab-we' (Zimbabwe) to learn a 1-2-3 beat, and finally 'Ethi-O-pia' (Ethiopia) to see if they can maintain that three beat pattern before finishing it off with 'I want to go to Af-ri-ca' to bring the 'song' full circle.
East Bernstadt Principal Susan Elza also attended the lessons along with Hedrick, who even participated in much of the percussion and introductory warm-ups, supporting the program and the methods through which Pace taught the lessons to the kids.
"I [hope their biggest takeaway from this] is life experiences," Elza said. "I don't think they've ever experienced anything like this before."
Hedrick agreed with the sentiment and expanded, offering more insight into why it was so important that students are not just caught up on the lessons they need to know, but learn more beyond that, especially things like African culture and music.
"I think it's good for them to know that the world isn't just Laurel County," Hedrick said. "There's tons of different types of people and cultures throughout the world and hopefully that will give them a better perspective on life down the road and the ability to work with different people down the road."
The summer enrichment program may have concluded its West African dance portion, but the learning rolls on all throughout the summer with different educators and teaching styles to be introduced prior to the return or standard schooling towards the back end of summer.