Arts celebration: Devon Forest project teaches students drums, dance, drama

Fifth-grader David Lawrence plays a djembe drum, a traditional African instrument, along with his classmates at Devon Forest Elementary as part of the school's first Youth Arts Celebration.

At Devon Forest Elementary in Goose Creek, students have been starting their days with a bang.

Bright and early at 8 a.m., a group of fifth-graders sits in the school's music room thumping and clapping away to a beat on African drums. One student leads with a tap-tap-tap and then a boom-pop, while the rest of the class mimics back.

Fifth-grader Elizabeth Jourdain said it was her favorite class, having gotten to learn about African culture while getting to play the drums.

"It makes learning fun," the 11-year-old said.

Since March, the school has been hosting its first Youth Arts Celebration, and the African drumming class was just one of several workshops the school offered to its students.

While the elementary school offers regular special area periods during the school week, the celebration allowed the students more exposure to the visual and performing arts, according to the teachers.

Among the other classes were workshops on making murals, creating origami and learning dances, including to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

Students also had a visit from an author and illustrator.

In the African drumming class, many of the students said they never knew about the different types of African music before, let alone played the instruments.

"We learned about the different drum names," Elizabeth said after the class.

"The dundun is the family of the three drums," fifth-grader Victoria Donaldson recalled. "The smallest one is the kenkeni. The medium is the songba. And the largest is the dununba."

Despite budget constraints, teachers at the school found a way to put on the celebration with the help from the school's Parent Teacher Organization, which helped raised the money.

Smita Dadheech, the school's music teacher, was one of the head organizers for the series of classes.

"We tried to focus on all of the five main arts areas: art, music, dance, creative writing and drama," Dadheech said. "And every child in the school has been able to participate in a couple of the activities."

The celebration also brought in a professional drama group to perform "Sleeping Beauty" for the kids, and an African dance company visited as well.

Even regular teachers around the school lent a hand and devoted some of their special talents and hobbies to teach the students different things.

Principal Cristie Mitchum showed students how to make bottle-cap necklaces.

For several children at the school, they said they have realized how important it is to keep the arts as part of a focus of their curriculum. Since the program started, students said it has been a great benefit to them.

"I think it's important because it gives us a break from regular academics," said Victoria, the fifth-grader.

"It gives you a chance to relax and take your mind off of stuff that you don't really want to think about," echoed 11-year-old Elizabeth Yohe.

Elizabeth's mom, Carrie Yohe, is the school's art teacher and was one of the other head organizers for the arts celebration.

Yohe said her overall goal for the program was for the students to get to experience art and activities they don't normally get to see or do. And they've accomplished that, she said.

"The kids have just been so excited about it all," she added.

Fifth-grader Drake Bowen may be among one of the most excited. He said he was glad to have something like the arts celebration finally happen at the school.

"I thought this was really fun because we finally got to do something different," the 10-year-old said. "I've been here six years, and I haven't done anything this fun in all those years. So it's really something different that I like."

The celebration will culminate April 19 when the school will put on a Youth Arts Night 4:30-7:30 p.m. that will feature an art exhibition and musical and dance performances by the students.

Reach Almar Flotildes at 937-5719.