By Bernie Petit
Teaching artist Rocio Gonzalez had a question for 10 pre-K students at Winterfield Elementary in Charlotte:
How can you use your body to pretend to be giraffe?
Within seconds, the students began craning their necks upward while standing on their tippy-toes, mimicking the most distinguishable characteristic of the tallest living terrestrial mammal. They laughed as they practiced pronouncing “giraffe,” “penguin” and “walrus” before learning how the animals factored into the story “A Mother for Choco,” which Gonzalez presented through word and song.
“As they get more comfortable with the song, I see them singing more and more,” said Gonzalez, who conducted the 30-minute lesson as part of the Arts & Science Council’s North Carolina Wolf Trap program.
NC Wolf Trap is one of 17 national sites of the acclaimed Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts program. The regional program, the only one in North Carolina, started in the 2006-07 school year and provides teaching artists for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) Bright Beginnings classes and More-at-Four classes in Mecklenburg County.
The seven-week residencies partner professional artists with early childhood educators to provide arts-based instruction to help ensure children under the age of six are prepared to enter school.
Program goals include improving student learning through drama, music and dance, providing professional development for teachers and making the arts a part of the daily interaction between students and their parents and teachers.
“We kind of cover the teacher, the children and the parents in our program,” said NC Wolf Trap Director Kathryn Bentley.
Program participants at Winterfield weren’t thinking about any of that. They were too busy sticking felt animals onto an oversized story book and having fun singing about the parts of a story – the beginning, middle and end – as Gonzalez strummed along on guitar.
“The objective here was for children to listen, speak and share knowledge,” she said. “What we’re doing in the story, everything is based around the children being able to participate.”
The story, about a baby bird looking for its mother, tied into the students’ prior lessons on family, said Winterfield pre-K teacher Ann Bell. It also provided them with experiences that aid in their development.
“Kids need to see people doing what they should be doing,” Bell said. “When you have a person that’s coming in and they’re modeling what the kids are supposed to be doing, then that helps them to see, ‘If they can model what I’m supposed to be doing, then it’s important for me to do it.’ It’s pretty much practicing what you see.”
NC Wolf Trap will be in 104 classrooms in 13 schools and development centers this school year, up from 55 classrooms last year. The growth is due in part to a national Grow Up Great grant from PNC that’s allowed the program to expand to Highland Renaissance Academy, Druid Hills Academy, Walter G. Byers School and Hidden Valley Elementary; an Electrolux grant that’s extended the program to kindergarten and first grade classes at Merry Oaks Elementary for the first time; and a Balfour Beatty workplace giving campaign that provides for pre-K classes at Merry Oaks. Additional support comes from CMS and the NC Arts Council.
NC Wolf Trap works with CMS to determine which sites receive the program, which stays at selected schools and centers for three consecutive years to ensure each classroom teacher works with artists in drama, music and dance disciplines.
Research tells us young children learn better through rhyming, dancing and singing. That’s evident watching Gonzalez and other NC Wolf Trap teaching artists work with students.
“An active child,” Gonzalez said, “is a learning child.”
For more information on the NC Wolf Trap program, visit www.asceducation.org/wolf-trap.