Rajeeyah Mujahid walks into an elementary school classroom and bangs her drum. The noise commands immediate attention. The kids know this is not English class anymore.
Mujahid has been teaching African drumming and dance for three years through North Charleston’s After School Outreach program. She likes it so much, she wishes she could teach it during regular school hours.
“The kids, they love it so,” she said this week. “The music just gets their hearts thumping and then they have to memorize what the song means.”
She teaches them about West Africa, about the dress, the origin of the drum, what the songs they will learn mean. The lessons are about culture, music, rhythm, respect and self-discipline mixed with a lot of fun.
Mujahid is a working artist with her own drumming group, RBM African Drum and Dance Company. The classes with the outreach program are her few hours a week passing on her art.
The outreach classes are funded by the city of North Charleston and are offered at 13 elementary schools in the area. The city is looking for artists to teach the classes next year, and Wednesday is the deadline for applications.
Another one of the artists is Kim Thomas, a mixed-media artist who uses plastic bags as both a statement and as materials for her work. She believes in environmentalism. A plastic bag and found materials are her medium, and they are easy to use as the basis for art.
She loves teaching the kids because it makes her stretch as an artist. “I’m drawn to that innate imaginative ability they have. They come up with ideas that I would never have thought of as an adult.”
One of the good things about this program is the short-term commitment. Classes are held for one hour twice a week with instructors rotating to a new school site on a bi-monthly basis. That means at the very least, a two-month commitment of 16 classes.
While it’s a paid part-time position, $20 an hour for up to 300 hours, those involved say the pay is not the reason most artists participate.
Ann Simmons, arts coordinator for the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department, says the classes are an excellent way for people who might think they want to teach to test the waters. The kids stay after school and so the number of students and participation varies from day to day and week to week.
The artists come from disciplines including music, theater, crafts and dance. The arts program rotates with a recreational program. And because the artists are working with kids, each one passes a background check before they sign on with the program.
The kids get to learn things that they don’t in school and without the pressure of grades. With arts curriculum money tight, this is a way to make learning fun without having to measure against standards.
Thomas says that makes sharing even more fun. There’s no right or wrong, and the students get to take home their projects to share with their families.
Karolea Lucas is a writer who teaches creative writing to teachers through the Lowcountry Writing Project. So when she was asked to teach creative writing directly to the kids, she jumped at the chance last year.
For the little kids, grades K4, K5 and first grade, she taught them how to make up their own stories. She helped them come up with a setting, then a plot, then the characters. Even though the children were small, they were good at creative problem-solving, she says.
“One of the stories was ‘Mittens for Kittens’ and they illustrated it and I held up the illustrations as we read the story.
“For the older kids, I have the author’s chair where any student can come up to read their story if they want to. There’s no pressure, but they love doing it.”
Lucas says she loved watching as vocabularies grew, as the students learned to use dictionaries.
“Once they realize they can use more creative words, they really want to find them in the dictionary. There’s great ownership and great pride in their work.”
All three women say that working with children is their reward, and seeing the creative process grow makes the teaching fun and exciting for them. Each has already signed up for the program for the fall.
Lucas says one of the children asked her if she had published a book, and when she said no, he said she wasn’t a writer.
“I had to explain that you are still writers even if you never get published because you write. It’s part of the joy of creating.”
Interested artists should submit a class proposal form and resume by July 10, as rotations begin in September.
Forms are available for download from the Applications and Registration Forms page at http://bit.ly/culturalarts. For more information, contact the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department at 740-5854.
Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rajeeyah Mujahid teaches African drumming in the North Charleston After School Outreach Program. She loves teaching it so much she wishes it was part of the school curriculum.×
Penni Byrd teaches music in the North Charleston After School Outreach program.×
Willette Wilkins teaches creative writing.×