Jefferson County Schools and the Birmingham Museum of Art are teaming up to change the way local kids learn art and poetry. Along the way, Jefferson County kids will also interactively learn about the Civil Rights Movement as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.
Thursday afternoon, full-time traveling performance poet Glenis Redmond will recite poetry at the Museum of Art. The museum chose the Greenville, South Carolina native to lead a workshop for hundreds of Jefferson County students, teachers and principals, encouraging young students to rethink poetry.
“You hear too many kids say ‘I hate poetry,'” Redmond said. “I want to help teachers bring poetry to life.”
The workshop will have an overall theme of civil rights. Redmond was born in 1963, the same year the bombings occurred. “I’m very mindful of the bombing. A lot of my poetry hinges on social justice and looking through that kind of window.”
“The arts gave me a wonderful way to look at and grow from the past,” she said. “It is a medium in which we can all come together and see how we can move forward. I’ve gravitated towards the arts since I was four or five and these performances never get old for me.”
Redmond has performed poetry for 19 years in the U.S., Haiti, Jamaica, England and Italy. She has a strong conviction that poetry should not only be written and read, but also performed.
“It does something to your heart when you hear it out loud,” she said. “It’s like music, it alters the way you feel.”
Redmond will also spend Friday morning in fourth grade classrooms at McAdory Elementary in McCalla teaching kids how to write poetry. On Friday night at 7 she’ll join Scott Ainslie, a blues musician from Vermont, for a free performance with original songs. The show is called “Southern Voices: Black, White, and Blues.”
The goal of bringing Redmond to Birmingham is to equip teachers to teach art and other subjects simultaneously, said Stacia Jacks, Visual Arts Supervisor for Jefferson County Schools.
“What we’re trying to do is bring more art instruction into the classroom while simultaneously using engaging methods to teach the content of the common core curriculum,” Jacks said. “Our first priority is to train teachers about art integration,” Jacks said. “Down the road we want to bring artists into the classroom. That’s the long-term goal.”
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. is helping fund the events. In 2012 the Kennedy Center began a unique partnership with the Jefferson County School System. The school system is one of eleven schools to gain such a partnership in 2012. The Kennedy Center pays for some of the school system’s travel costs and reimburses some of what it costs to run the workshops, Jacks said.
“The Kennedy Center is a fierce forerunner in art integration,” said Redmond, who trained at the center to become a performance poet.
This is the beginning of a long-term strategy to reform the way Jefferson County classes are taught, particularly in grades three through eight, Jacks said. It’s a strategy that uses art as a “vehicle for learning,” she said.