project brings global view
Grant Reigelsperger, left, and Benjamyn Hillard rehearse a theater
performance during Marilyn Klabens residency at Mills Lawn
School this week.
Eka ason! went the start of the afternoon greetings for Mills
Lawn School first graders last week.
Ba wo ni? Bao Ku Moses asked the students in Yoruba, the language
of Eastern Nigeria.
Da dani Esa! the class answered.
This fall, as part of Looking In, Looking Out, a three-year
arts and diversity project at Mills Lawn, teachers from the African drum
and dance school Bi-Okoto are sharing the languages, foods, dance and
music of the Nigerian and Ghanian cultures with students throughout the
After reviewing the greetings, Moses, a Nigerian teacher from Bi-Okoto
in Cincinnati, led the students through a lesson about showing respect
for the elders in daily conversation. The students listened and responded
to this tall man wearing a cowrie shell necklace and speaking with a heavy
Then they began to shuffle their feet and ask questions.
How do you say my name [in Yoruba]? asked Mary Lewis.
How do you say mother? another student asked.
How do you say brother? asked a third.
Saying these words in Yoruba had peaked the students curiosity,
and every hand in the group shot in the air.
Then Kwame Pongo, another teacher from Bi-Okoto, began beating the drums
to signal the time for dancing.
We teach them about African cultures so that they can see how global
the world has become, Pongo said. We hope they will be able
to compare and contrast cultures without being critical but through acceptance.
On another day of the artist-in-residence program, Marilyn Klaben, education
director for Daytons Human Race Theater, taught second-grade students
Stay with your animal! she called out to the students, who
wore paper elephant trunks and zebra stripes and squawked around on stage.
They were rehearsing a dramatized Kenyan folktale, The Magic Drum,
which they would perform that evening for parents and community members.
The students have been really responsive, and theyre very
much into the theater skills weve been working on, Klaben
Last spring, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded Mills Lawn
a three-year grant to fund a year of planning, a year of rotating artists-in-residence
at the school and a year of disseminating information about the experience
to other educational institutions.
By putting our lesson plans on the Web and preparing documentation
based on our experience to share with other schools, we could help others
integrate the arts and make a big difference for those kids, said
Mills Lawn kindergarten teacher Becky Brunsman, who helped organize the
But the NEA grant fell short of the projected amount, Brunsman said. Teachers
have had to scramble to get help from other benefactors in order to retain
the originally scheduled artists, she said.
Two of the teachers who helped spearhead the project by doing most of
the grant writing last year have since left Mills Lawn, Brunsman said.
And the onus to gather more funding has fallen on her by default.
I never intended to be the director of this program, but some other
teachers have stepped up to help, and were going to keep on applying
for more money, she said.
Since the spring the school has obtained funding from the Yellow Springs
Endowment for Education, the local Parent Teacher Organization and the
Ohio Arts Council, which awarded the school six grants.
The school has been turned down for funding by the Coca-Cola Foundation
and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, and faculty and staff are now
in the process of applying for a grant from Target and other small endowments,
This fall first and second graders have had three weeks to work on expressive
voices, flexible bodies and active imaginations with the theater residency.
Bi-Okoto will be at the school all year working with students several
times a month.
John Fleming, who is the artistic director of the YS Kids Playhouse, begins
December with a three-week multimedia production with fifth and sixth
graders. Several other dancers will work with different age groups through
the winter and spring.
Its going amazingly well so far this year, Brunsman
Program coordinators hope to end the school year with a festival in May
to showcase the work the students did with each of the artists.