First-year, pre-education major Jasia Clark charges a group of Eagle Ridge Elementary students with an important question: if you could change the world, what would you change?
As they answer the question with “I would make inventions,” “I would help everyone have a great education” and vowing to “work real hard”—they do so on a drawing of a dragon in the shape of their handprint.
“The book’s name is ‘Legend of the Chinese Dragon’,” said Clark. “The whole activity’s purpose is to make them think about what their impact could be. They can make a difference—they just have to realize they have the power.”
Clark is part of the volunteer program Passport to the Arts at Eagle Ridge Elementary, led by Dr. Linda Bradley, associate professor of literacy education. Bradley created the program with funding from the Office of ENGAGE, with the goal of giving local school children access to literacy and the arts while exploring world cultures.
“My hope is that by exposing them to a range of perspectives, they might get a sense of certain arts they would like to pursue further. It’s all about uncovering possibilities,” said Bradley. She also says while Eagle Ridge students have access to music and the arts during school, this program gives them a wider variety.
“They might learn they love painting or dancing or even practicing tai chi,” she said.
Groups of Georgia College students flock to Eagle Ridge every Tuesday and Thursday to teach lessons showcasing the culture of China. Now in their third semester of implementation, Bradley says the plan is to focus on a different culture every school year. The program is also in collaboration with the afterschool Youth Enrichment Services (YES) program, which focuses on raising achievement and educational aspirations of Baldwin County elementary students. From painting, dancing, creating Chinese drums to even getting their very own “passport”—every activity focuses on guiding students through a journey of Chinese culture.
“My hope for our GC students, is that this sparks something in them to express their creativity as educators,” said Bradley. “This also serves as an opportunity for them to be mentored as well as to mentor others. Mentoring can be a key to classroom management—and this is such a great opportunity for practice.” Bradley says keeping the attention of a classroom of third- fifth graders from 4:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. is a tough job for even the most seasoned educator—not to mention those in their first year of college.
Cameron Shuler, first-year pre-education major, took that challenge her first semester at Georgia College in the fall. She’s now in her second semester and signed up to participate in the Passport to the Arts again—with plans to keep participating until she graduates. Her excitement for teaching is apparent when she’s in front of a class, instructing animatedly how to use chopsticks.
“This has been a super awesome opportunity for me to get experience and meet so many amazing students,” said Shuler. “I was telling my dad about it last semester, and he couldn’t believe I was already able to be in front of a classroom, teaching and interacting with students.”
Shuler, a native of Savannah who attended a high school for the arts, innately understands the need for arts throughout a curriculum.
“Art is always the first to be cut in schools,” she said. “What we’re doing with this program is so important. By bringing a culture to these groups of kids that they otherwise might not be exposed to, we’re giving them the freedom to explore all the parts of that culture through art.”
Bradley’s motivation for creating the program stems from her time spent as an educator but also a mother and community member. She wanted to see opportunities for all children to grow up with access to the arts with a diverse group of engaged citizenry, she says.
“There’s a great need for all children to have opportunities to get involved in the arts,” said Bradley. “Our goal as representatives of GC is to be a positive partner with the YES program, listen carefully to the needs and work creatively to meet those needs.”
For Abby Hurst, first-year pre-education major, her first day with the program was spent instructing a group of Eagle Ridge students how to construct drums celebrating the Chinese New Year, which began Jan. 28.
“My hope is to gain confidence. I want to be more comfortable in front of the classroom and answering their questions,” Hurst said, who comes from a family of educators.
“I appreciate this opportunity so much, and the reason I wanted to become an educator was to make a difference in a child’s life,” she said. “This is just the beginning of that.”