News From the Field: Project Success Empowers Through Artistic and Cultural Enrichment

Submitted by Rickey Williams

At Project Success of Vermilion County’s 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC), one of the ways we empower children and families to achieve their highest potential is by exposing them to artistic and cultural enrichment and helping them attend those experiences both on- and off-site. Over the past semester, three of our 21st CCLC sites put their own special spin on this approach to learning by creating dynamic, hands-on programs for our community.

students acting as protestors in Black history month performance    

Students at Laura Lee Fellowship House participating in a mock protest as part of a Black History Month performance

   

Black History Month Performance at Laura Lee Fellowship House

At Laura Lee Fellowship House, a site serving first through fifth graders, students formed a drama club in January. They went right to work on putting together a performance for Black History Month. The young actors and actresses had to research their characters, write speeches, and memorize lines. They went from two rehearsals a week to practicing every day in preparation for their February 25 debut.

On the night of the performance, 31 guests arrived to be entertained and show support for their children and grandchildren. The older participants put on a mock protest and then performed the choral poem “Let Freedom Ring” by Joan Nichols. The younger students portrayed notable African Americans while reciting historical facts and identifying characteristics about themselves. Other students who were not involved in drama club contributed by decorating the multi-purpose room with Black History Month themed artwork.

    X-Belle Lemonade Stand
   

Participants at the South View Middle School International Food Fair

Engaging the Community and the World at South View Middle School

In March, students from our South View Middle School site joined forces with the English as a Second Language (ESL)  class at Danville Area Community College (DACC) to host their first ever International Food Fair. The event involved over 100 people from 10 countries and U.S. territories. DACC ESL students from Mexico, China, Puerto Rico, Morocco, Uganda, Myanmar, Japan, and Macedonia displayed maps, pictures, and cultural items and provided samples of food from their native countries. The South View students and their families each received a passport booklet that had questions about each country for them to complete. After participants visited the country’s display, sampled the food, and answered questions, they received stamps for their passport. The result was a trip around the world! Over 50 South View students participated, nearly a dozen DACC students visited, and over 20 parents came to join the fun! The event was featured on the front page of our local newspaper.

Georgetown Ridge Farm High School Revives Drama Club

Our program has also been engaging students in drama programming at the high school level. The Georgetown Ridge Farm High School (GRHS) drama club had been inactive for three years. GRHS senior Dottie Hopkins reestablished the drama club through Project Success. Students started slowly the first semester, doing skits once a week while learning improv and theatrical terms. Toward the end of first semester, they decided to attempt a school play. As soon as everyone came back from Christmas break, the scripts were ordered and tryouts began. Practices started at once a week and quickly grew to three times a week. Gradually, students started adding props and costumes to their practices.  Even students that were not in the play found ways to be involved, whether it was by helping with sound, make-up, set creation, or concessions.

Members of the Georgetown Ridge Farm High School Drama Club    

Members of the Georgetown Ridge Farm High School Drama Club

   
     
     

The GRHS Drama Club performed in April and our apprehension was high. Only two of the students had been on a stage before and we were nervous after seeing them struggle with their lines during the final rehearsal. Add to this the fact that most participants are students who struggle with social skills and would never dream of stepping on stage in front of a crowd. As parents, teachers, and community members began to take their seats, we realized that the auditorium was nearly full. More than 60 parents and over 100 people total came to support our students. Just when we begin to think that nervousness will overtake the students, the lights go out, the play begins, and…no pauses? No nerves? Who are these kids? The play went on almost as if each student stayed up all night rehearsing their lines! These are not the same students we saw perform at practice the night before. Pride overtook us, as well as guilt for ever doubting their abilities. At intermission, our site coordinator went backstage to share how impressed we were with the students. In talking to them, he discovered that they actually messed up quite a few lines, but no one in the audience had noticed. Best of all, the students were having the time of their lives! The second half also went off without a hitch; our students nailed it, and we were truly impressed. They volunteered to do something they have never done before, something that would intimidate even the most confident of people. They worked together as a team for months to prepare for it, and even when they weren’t ready, they worked together taking over each other's lines if one forgot. The play was not only featured on the front page of the paper, but the students were honored by the Georgetown Ridge Farm school board for their outstanding contribution to the school and community!

21st CCLC Takeaways

All of these programs had several things in common. First, they not only required the use of, but also enhanced, critical 21st-century skills. Creativity and imagination helped students determine what types of programs to do; they used critical thinking to plan the events, collaboration and teamwork were needed to implement them; and problem solving skills were used when things did not go quite as planned. Second, the programs supported academic enrichment by requiring a lot of out-of-school reading, which helps in every aspect of learning, while also growing the students through indirect social-emotional learning. Third, family and the community were engaged through not only attendance at events, but also in helping students prepare by rehearsing lines, creating costumes, and preparing sets and/or displays. Finally, the staff, students, and their families were able to showcase their talents to the community and experience new things all while having fun celebrating art and culture! None of this would be possible without 21st CCLC funding.