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Local Voices: The power of art in education

 

Jan Douglas

 

Editors note: The following is a letter written by Jan Douglas to Angela Brown, a Metropolitan Opera soprano. In February Brown visited Columbus for a public performance and interactive sessions with area school children. 

 

 

 

In February you visited B.F. Liddell Elementary School (in Noxubee County). My special-needs class was sitting in the front row. I cannot begin to tell you how much they enjoyed your presentation. They all thought you were funny and pretty. 

 

You might be glad to know that my co-teacher and I took time before the program to introduce our children to opera. It just so happened that during that week of February we were studying black musicians from Mississippi. We chose that day to look up Leontyne Price in honor of your visit. 

 

Your visit inspired several lessons and activities in our classroom. Our students are assessed using an alternate assessment instrument which is a portfolio of baseline and final assessments. We integrated you into our assessment. Josh used you as his topic and organized the noted I took into a graphic organizer. Byrun used that graphic organizer to write a focused text about you. Jeremiah used a writer's checklist and revised that paper. Our three sixth-grade students had to practice writing friendly letters for their assessments so we decided everyone could write a letter to you, which I have included. I am very proud of how neatly Markeeta copied her letter to you. She has cerebral palsy and has a difficult time writing. 

 

Other lessons inspired by your visit included an art activity. Unfortunately, with everything else we have to do, art gets pushed aside. I was unable to find a video of you singing "Summertime" but I did find several videos of Miss Price singing the song. I chose one and loaded it onto my computer. The children were given paper, brushed and paint. I started the video and everyone, including me, painted while the music played. This happens to be one of my very favorite activities and I was so glad for the opportunity to share it again with my students. I have included the paintings with the letters. 

 

We used your performance as a stepping stone to listen to other types of classical music. We had just read a passage on Yo-Yo Ma and his views on education which blended right in with your views. It was irrelevant that Mr. Ma is not from Mississippi. He should be. Mr. Ma's cello led into other stringed instruments and directly to B.B. King, who IS from Mississippi. 

 

We also had a signing lesson for Nick who has autism and is non-verbal. We learned the signs for come, sing, funny, voice and pretty. 

 

I was thrilled by your presentation. I especially liked that you would stop and give mini lessons on proper behavior. Coming from an outside person made it easier for them to take. And thank you so much for explaining opera in terms they could understand. I want to thank you for patiently answering the question Jeremiah, who also has autism, asked during your question and answer session. He asked, "Who writes your music?" I was very proud of him for asking his question so well. 

 

I was especially impressed with several things you said. The first was, "Keep your mind open to new experiences." So many of our children will spend their whole lives in Noxubee County. They will never go anywhere that isn't a part of their immediate world. They will be exposed tot he same things over and over. You were a wonderful new part of their lives and I thank you. 

 

You also said, "Opera chose me." I believe that if we only pay attention, our true calling in life will make itself known. I say this because special education chose me and I would have it no other way. 

 

The third thing you said that impressed me was when you told the students that "everyone's success is different." I live that every day of my life. I teach. I teach special needs children. I teach my grandsons. Every last child I have ever worked with has succeeded in their very own way. I teach children to believe in themselves and I teach them to succeed. 

 

Thank you so very much for being a part of my students' school year.

 

 

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