Happy Birthday Arkansas!
By Freddie A. Bowles
My home state of Arkansas is celebrating its 175th year of statehood this year. On June 15, 1836, Arkansas became the 25th state in the Union. More than likely, I would have simply acknowledged this momentous date by reading about the special events and celebrations in our state paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but an E-mail message to join the birthday party caught my attention with an invitation I couldn't refuse.
The Walton Arts Center in collaboration with the Washington County Historical Society, Trike Theatre, the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project, and Fayetteville Public Schools put together the "perfect storm" of professional development for K-12 educators. "Statehood Day—Digging Up Arkansas” combined history, writing, arts integration, technology, and drama in a one-day workshop, a perfect mix for a wide range of educators. The workshop also provided four of the sixty required hours of professional development (PD) mandated by the state for licensed teachers.
On the Anniversary Date We Meet
For Drama, History, and Cake.
I was drawn to participate because of my interest in Arkansas history and drama, and because I knew most of the presenters and several of the participants. Besides, it gave me the opportunity to break away from too much office-bound solitude to mix and mingle with peers, colleagues, and former students now employed in local school districts. The "icing on the cake" was literally a red, white, and blue Arkansas flag birthday cake, a sweet treat sampled by most everyone between sessions.
The workshop took place on June 15 in one of Fayetteville's finest schools, Owl Creek, set in a bucolic valley on the west end of town. The facility is bright and spacious, with each wing defined by a central airy hall with inner courtyards. Participants were placed in one of two tracks. You either began with the drama, Digging Up Arkansas, followed by a choice of three break-out sessions, or you participated in the sessions first and then attended the drama.
Everyone gathered in the cafetorium just before 4 o’clock to pick up their boxed dinner and socialize before the workshop began. Three former students in the Master of Arts in Teaching program (2007-2008) formed part of the leadership team for the PD day: Justin Keen, Jane Keen, and Lonnie Strange.
Seeing Former Students
Is a Big Part of the Fun.
Justin Keen led the technology workshop. He and his wife Jane are social studies teachers and members of the Washington County Historical Society . Justin was a student in one of my Multicultural Issues courses, and both Jane and Justin brought their student expertise to one of my Classroom Management courses.
You can view Justin's Multicultural Logo here and his "ABC Who Is Me?" poem from the same class here
. Justin and Jane's Bio Poems can be found at this link . Just scroll down the page to read their descriptions.
Another former student, Lonnie Strange, hails from my neck of the woods, the Mississippi River delta on the Arkansas side of the Father of Waters. Lonnie recently completed her MA in history. She is also a member of the historical society. On a tour back home to Mississippi County during her time in the Master of Arts in Teaching program, Lonnie took a photo of my home town
I was also looking forward to seeing several of my Delta Kappa Gamma sisters working in their areas of expertise. Dr. Pat Relph produces Digging Up Arkansas, Kassie Misciewicz directs the play, and Jules Taylor performs in it.
Another colleague, the playwright Mike Thomas, teaches at one of our partner schools, Ramay Junior High School, and serves as one of the co-directors of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project. Mike also appears on stage wearing his actor personae when he’s not otherwise engaged in teaching, writing, and directing!
Kassie Misiewicz's Tableau Technique
Appeals (Again) to the Artist Within.
Once greetings and news had been exchanged and dinner devoured, participants joined their "track" members to begin a delightful evening of Arkansas history workshops. Participants could choose from three concurrent sessions: Technology, Writing, or Arts Integration. I followed my Track A compadres to the library for the Arts Integration session, Kassie Misiewicz's Comprehend, Collaborate & Connect: Using Tableau to Teach About Arkansas.
Kassie, artistic director of Trike Theatre , Northwest Arkansas' professional theatre for youth, specializes in using drama strategies to teach core curriculum by helping
students learn to collaborate, communicate, concentrate, and think critically. Students create a tableau, a silent picture, using their bodies to explore abstract ideas through movement. This was my third time to participate in one of Kassie's arts integration sessions, and I always finish her workshops invigorated and inspired.
Kassie led us through several warm-up exercises to help us relax and show us how to model the strategies for students. The activities began individually and progressed to group work, ultimately leading us to create a tableau about Arkansas geography and history. Our group of four created a living picture of the Arkansas River Valley. I represented the nuclear power plant!
For the history tableau, our final activity, the class was shown a paragraph with each group directed to depict a specific sentence. Ours read: The Caddo were very good at making ceramic bowls and pottery pieces such as bottles, jars, and platters. The grand finale saw us reciting our sentences chorally while physically creating the silent picture to represent the sentence. What a delightful way to teach history.
Between the concurrent sessions and the dramatization, I joined members of the Washington County Historical Society and the Walton Arts Center to cut the birthday cake and have a cookie or three.
Under a Canvas Tent the Drama
Carries Us Back to Roosevelt's WPA.
After break, members of Track A settled into a canvas tent in the cafetorium. Participants sat in chairs on either
side of a long ramp splitting the tent into two halves. A dual slide projector positioned in the middle of the ramp allowed the director to project images on the canvas at either end of the ramp. Large crates labeled W P A were scattered on separate platforms at either end of the ramp. Props from the crates were scattered higgly-piggly in, on, and around the crates.
Dressed in coats emblazoned with WPA logos, actors Jason Suel, Christy Hall, and Jules Taylor sang the Arkansas state anthem, written by Mrs. Eva Ware Barnett and published in 1917, as the audience settled in. The play takes place in 1936, the year President Roosevelt traveled to Arkansas to celebrate the state's 100th anniversary. The plot is based on a visit to Arkansas by writers from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to gather history and stories from Arkansas residents in advance of the president’s arrival.
The three thespians portray WPA authors who are charged with the task of documenting stories and cataloguing relics related to the history of Arkansas up to 1936. The stories and relics are to be sent to Little Rock as a gift for President Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the train taking the artifacts to Little Rock derails, and the crates’ contents are scattered about the scene. The WPA writers, working under a tight deadline, must reorganize and categorize the artifacts and stories, and then place them in their proper crates before the President arrives.
Each crate is labeled by date and theme:
- Communication — pre-historic to 1700s;
- Cooperation — 1700s to Civil War;
- Courage — 1860 to 1899;
- Culture — 1900-1936.
We Discover a Mystery Crate
And Begin to Write Our Own History.
The performers act, sing, read, recite, and interact with the audience while they recover the artifacts and "date and crate" the items in chronological order. Authentic images are projected on either end of the ramp to support the narratives of characters and events. After the crates are resealed, a fifth crate appears with the date 1 9 3 6 - ? Audience members are then asked to brainstorm the names of famous Arkansans since 1936 and share them with one another. Our list included a panoply of notables: writers, performers, musicians, politicians, and business leaders.
The performance ended with the actors revealing to the audience that the fifth crate is a gift to future generations of Arkansans. Keep Arkansas history alive, they urged, by recording your own stories and images to help others continue Digging Up Arkansas.
To conclude the workshop, participants were given two tasks: first, to dig out their evaluations and review the workshop; and second, to dig out their reflections and write. Dr. Pat Relph, the Walton Arts Learning Specialist, asked us to reflect on three points: one, to recall something we learned about Arkansas; two, to share something we could apply to the classroom for teaching about Arkansas history; and three, to let the staff know what we appreciated about the professional development opportunity.
I responded to Pat’s first point with pride, remarking on the many Arkansas luminaries who light-up local, state, national, and world stages. For the classroom, I thought about directing my students to experiment with the tableau format for language learning. And for point three, I shared my appreciation of the good humor, passion, and commitment shown by the 100-plus teachers who attended the event during their first official days of summer vacation.
As we filed out into the lobby to pick up our certificates, I heard bits and pieces of conversation — not about vacation or summer days off, but about the luxury of having enough free time to practice the new technology before the next school year begins, and about how to incorporate the tableau strategy into the social studies’ unit on the Indians of Arkansas. Teachers are students at heart. Always and forever learning. Always.
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