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Lower Richland High School STEAMs Ahead, Bringing Harlem Renaissance to Life for Black History Month

The jazz of Duke Ellington, the words of Langston Hughes, and the moves of Josephine Baker took over classrooms of Lower Richland High School on Thursday, February 8 for a “Stroll through the Harlem Renaissance,” the grand finale for the school’s study on the pivotal Civil Rights movement.

Musician Ken Cheeks interacts with students during “A Stroll Through the Harlem Renaissance.” Photo by Crush Rush Photography.

Guided by instruction from some of the best-loved performers in the Midlands through a month-long artist residency – the event was free and open to the public and presented visitors with a living-history reenactment by students themselves.

This artist residency, which brought theatre artists and storytellers Darion McCloud and Bonita Peeples and musician Ken Cheeks to the school throughout January 2018, was part of the school’s STEAM programming (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), which is supported by its partnership with EngenuitySC. This residency exemplified hands-on learning and connections to the community – hallmarks of the STEAM education initiative in Richland County School District One.

Artists taught the history and performance styles of the Harlem Renaissance, coaching students in their preparation for the “Stroll,” which featured students in character as famous figures from the time period – performing poems, scenes, and songs.

“The arts are a celebration of humanity’s achievements and triumphs,” says theatre artist Darion McCloud. “The Harlem Renaissance is a period of particular joy – a time when African Americans used their literature, dance, music, philosophy and art to show the world shining examples of excellence. This is one of the reasons that it has proven so effective to employ artists as educators to teach students about this historically important period.”

Bonita Peeples sharing a smile with one of the talented student performers. Photo by Crush Rush Photography.

Students were energized about the new unit on Civil Rights,” says Tim Shipley, Lower Richland social studies teacher, of the time spent with the artists. “They felt a connection with the individuals from Harlem that Darion and Bonita shared with them.

EngenuitySC Executive Director, Meghan Hickman, agrees. “When STEM becomes STEAM, we find student engagement intensifies and student confidence and joy increases. It’s exciting to watch students connect to the famous artists of the Harlem Renaissance. It raises their expectations of themselves. Our community is lucky to have great teaching artists like Ken, Bonita and Darion, and Lower Richland is lucky to have fantastic teachers like Mrs. Green, Mr. Shipley, and Mr. Buller.”

Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., EngenuitySC is a nonprofit focused on long-term competitiveness and prosperity in the Midlands. EngenuitySC specializes in managing collaborations between business, government, education and community leaders. For more information, visit http://www.engenuitysc.com.

Featured photo: Dr. Ericka Hursey, Lower Richland High School principal, proudly stands with student performers.  Photo by Crush Rush Photography.

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