UNION — Hallways lined with student drawings and paintings, a concert that featured students singing and others who played stringed instruments or the harmonica, a scavenger hunt, gymnastics, and displays by professional artists who shared their stories were all part of Foster Park Elementary School’s annual Arts Night Tuesday evening.
The evening began with a free spaghetti supper for parents and students in the school’s cafeteria and then continued in the hallways where paintings and drawings by students using a variety of mediums were display. Also in the hallway were displays of the work of a number of artists, many of whom were present to talk about their careers and answer questions about their background, education, and experiences as professional artists.
“The focus for this Arts Night was careers in the arts, including the visual and performing arts, music, and creative writing.” Amy Truitt, arts teacher and organizer of the event, said. “These were folks that have gone through Union County schools and have pursued careers related to one of the arts areas. I wanted them to come and just expose students and parents here to what is involved in that, their daily routines, their education.
“We had Chris Youngblood who’s an architect, and Ashley Cook who’s a graphic designer,” she said. “We had Dr. Edna Ellington, who’s an author and speaker. We had Jean Young, a music teacher and church instrumentalist, and Edelyn Moore, a music teacher and minister of music. We had Jeff Hayes, a graphic designer and painter. We also featured Aaron Dawkins, a writer and film producer, who now lives in Maryland. He wasn’t able to be here but we featured him.”
In addition to viewing student art and interacting with the professional artists present, many students and their parents also took part in a scavenger hunt. The parents and students had to search for paper snowmen made by the school’s first grade artists on the walls of the hallway, write down each snowman’s number and their location. FPES Principal Barbara Palmer said when they’d found all the snowmen and wrote down the appropriate information, the students could turn them in for Eagle Bucks.
The evening then moved back into the cafeteria where students, their parents, school staff, and other visitors were treated to a concert that included fifth grade students playing stringed instruments and fourth grade students playing the harmonica. The 5k students sang three songs about friendship and then each student read a sentence they wrote on the theme of “I Love My Friend.”
After the concert, there was a gymnastics demonstration by students from various grades that concluded the evening.
The arts are a major part of the educational experience FPES offers its students each year, an experience that includes studying with professional artists.
“I write a grant every year and we get funding from the State Department of Education,” Truitt said. “This allows us to hire professional artists to come into our school and work with our students. We received $3,500 this year and I used some of it to purchase supplies, but most of it went to hiring the artists.
“This year we had Sarah Hammond and Paula Edwards from Charleston who worked with our third graders on making sweetgrass baskets,” she said. “We had Charlie Storey who taught our fourth graders how to play the harmonica. We had Holly Hannon, she’s an illustrator, and she worked with our second graders and fifth graders. “
In addition to the artists brought in through the state grant, Truitt said A.C. Martin, the owner of Martin House Enterprises in Union, volunteered his time to come in and work with fourth grade students on stained glass window design.
Truitt said the arts can have a positive impact on a child’s personal and educational development as well on the academic achievement of the school itself.
“It gives them a complete education, it makes them more well-rounded,” Truitt said. “Sometimes children that struggle academically find their niche in the arts. Also, if a student succeeds in the arts it boosts their self-esteem and that affects their performance.
“There have been studies that show that students who have a higher self-esteem are more successful in the classroom, that schools that have arts programs in place have higher student attendance and higher student performance on test scores,” she said. “Often, the arts teach higher level thinking skills such as analyzing and creativity that transfers into the classroom as well.”