Annunciation students take an international approach to learning

 

Kelly Bell, 9, and Sally Stafford, 8, stand for a round of applause after the Celebrating Diversity performance at Annunciation Catholic School Thursday evening.  Kelly's parents are Chad and Libba Bell and Sally's parents are Stewart and Molly Stafford, all of Columbus.

Kelly Bell, 9, and Sally Stafford, 8, stand for a round of applause after the Celebrating Diversity performance at Annunciation Catholic School Thursday evening. Kelly's parents are Chad and Libba Bell and Sally's parents are Stewart and Molly Stafford, all of Columbus. Photo by: Luisa Porter/ Dispatch Staff

 

Carmen K. Sisson

 

 

The sombreros were nearly as tall as the preschoolers wearing them, evoking smiles, a flurry of camera flashes and proud parents hefting iPads to video the youngsters.

 

As the first notes of "La Cucaracha" filled the gymnasium at Annunciation Catholic School Thursday night, the pint-sized performers grasped their maracas and waited for the cue from music teacher Celsie Staggers. At times, it was hard to tell who was having more fun, Staggers or her students.

 

The performance was just one of many during a special program designed to celebrate multicultural diversity and showcase a yearlong, school-wide initiative that has impacted the future of education at Annunciation.

 

 

This is the second year the school has participated in the Arts in the Classroom Initiative, which is funded by the Mississippi Arts Commission and uses dance, drama, art and music to teach state-required academic benchmarks.

 

This year's project focused on specific geographic areas of study, with each level -- from preschool to eighth grade -- choosing a country or region to focus upon. Teachers in each class then used the area's culture to teach math, science, literature and other disciplines.

 

Math teacher Jennifer David admitted she wasn't sure how she was going to incorporate Japan into her math lessons, but she ended up using origami to teach geometry.

 

The fusion of hands-on experience with textbook knowledge taught the teachers as much as the students, and that was part of the point, said Karen Overstreet, curriculum coordinator and grant writer for the school.

 

Although the teachers have always worked well together, finding creative ways to blend lesson plans forced them to coordinate their efforts even more, she said.

 

And by weaving such tight integration into the curriculum, it helped build a greater sense of community, developing a sustainable system she believes will continue long beyond the current staff.

 

Instead of relying on outdated methods of teaching, the newer, cutting-edge style will become more than a one-year experiment -- it will become the way school is taught at Annunciation, Overstreet said.

 

Staggers said enthusiasm for the integrated arts curriculum was "contagious" as teachers worked together to find solutions.

 

"Our teachers are so creative," she said. "We just throw an idea out there, and they run with it. It's been a fun experience."

 

Students were equally as enthusiastic.

 

Sally Stafford, 8, stood outside the gym and patiently waited for her third grade class to take the stage to perform "Que Bonita Bandera" and present little-known facts about Puerto Rico.

 

She said she enjoyed the way the teaching style encouraged student participation.

 

"I loved being able to do everything and not being forced," Stafford said. "I loved being able to come up with my own ideas."

 

The integrated lesson plan, and Thursday night's performance, continued something that is a basic tenet of student life at Annunciation, David said. Students are confident in their abilities and aren't prone to stage fright, because they participate in a constant stream of plays, skits, musicals and other public performances.

 

They're used to expressing themselves, but the multicultural theme focused the entire school on a common goal, she said.

 

In the library, students read books about specific countries and cultures. Then they studied the music, food, religion, economy and history, sometimes comparing them with other regions.

 

Staggers said watching the students Thursday night made her realize how far they've come since August.

 

Still, she found one hurdle insurmountable: It's very difficult to teach the Mexican hat dance to preschoolers.

 

"They looked like jumping beans," she said, laughing.

 

Judging from the applause as the tykes concluded their performance of "La Cucaracha" by counting to 10 in Spanish, Staggers may have to teach them a new word next year: encore.

 

 

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.

 

 

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