Learning about other cultures through the steel drum
By Lindsay McLaughlin, Alternative Therapies Coordinator, The Pathways Schools
The Pathways Schools held its third annual Student Art Show on April 30. The event is a showcase for student creativity and artistic expression and is an opportunity to recognize standout partners, such as family members, Pathways staff and board members, businesses and agencies who employ or provide internships for our students, teaching artists who carry out residencies at our schools, and many others. This year’s Community Partner of the Year was Young Audiences teaching artist and musician Kevin Martin of Rockcreek Steel Drums for his dedication to bringing steel drum music and the vitality of Caribbean culture and history to our students.
During his residencies with students, Kevin teaches the basics of the steel drum, melody, rhythm, and so much more. Our students learned about another culture and saw a different way of seeing the world and themselves. Kevin has an ability to connect with students through music. That ability, along with his patience and consistent encouraging attitude, has made Kevin a sought-after teaching artist here at Pathways.
A couple years ago, our Pathways teachers and therapists were looking for ways to bring music into our schools so I asked Young Audiences staff to recommend a musician who could connect with our students. Thus Kevin came to us. He has completed no fewer than five residencies at Pathways in four of our six schools during the past two years. Next year, he is scheduled for a residency at a fifth school.
We are very grateful for Kevin, his commitment and talent, and also for organizations like Young Audiences that advocate for and make it possible for artists to come into our schools, work with our teachers and staff, and enhance the education and indeed the lives of our students and staff.
There’s a bigger picture here as well. As Pathways educators, we know that the best learning often doesn’t take place behind a desk. Our students thrive in a variety of learning environments, including museums and libraries, to job sites, such as ships sailing the Potomac tributaries and production studios at local television stations. Similarly, they learn best using a variety of means, like while playing a steel drum or molding a mosaic tile. This is because as human beings we need many avenues to take in the world and to release the prodigious power of our imaginations. This is what art does for us. It is an accessible way for us to connect our minds to the world that surrounds us. It gives us a way to communicate who we are–our ideas, thoughts, new understandings, and what we perceive
This is why it is critically important that we keep the arts vibrant in our schools for our students. How much better it is to experience the vitality of Caribbean culture through a steel drum compared to a textbook. How much better it is to feel the edges of a mosaic piece and use it to create an image with personal significance than look at a geometry chart or the dictionary entry for “symbol.” Art is how information becomes tangible and how knowledge becomes understanding. This is the sort of transformation that artists who come to work with our students facilitate every day. In turn, they are supported by dedicated arts educators and advocates who ensure that they are able to do what they do, particularly local and state arts councils and nonprofit organizations like Young Audiences.
Art–human expression in all its forms–should never be on the margins, whether we are talking about our communities or our schools. Thanks to the efforts of artists like Kevin and organizations like Young Audiences, it isn’t. Congratulations to the Pathways Community Partner of the Year Kevin Martin.