The arts: Carroll County is putting an A in STEM

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By Jeff Fremin

Responding to a demand for more high tech workers, educators across the country are placing greater emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, often referred to by the acronym STEM. In Carroll County Schools, however, an additional letter, A for the arts, is equally important.  Students focus on STEAM, not just STEM.

“The arts help students develop the creativity, critical thinking skills and innovation that are important in the 21st Century workplace,” said Lisa James, superintendent of the Carroll County School District.

James said that the arts are important for many reasons beyond creating a more productive workforce.  The arts also provide a creative outlet for students, help students develop relationships with other students and the school as a whole, and create memorable experiences.

“Growing up on a farm in rural Switzerland County, Ind., some of my greatest memories of childhood are being involved in the arts and humanities,” James said. “Being in the band and in plays gave me experiences I might not otherwise have had.”

Many budding student artists have been demonstrating their creativity recently through performances or displays at year-end concerts and artist showcases.

Winn Primary School students shared their talents in music, dance and design at the April meeting of the Carroll County Board of Education on April 26.

The choir sang and danced to two Motown tunes, while the melodic percussion group called the “Xylophone Zoo” performed “Funky Town.” Members of Destination Imagination, a critical thinking, creative problem solving team, which uses elements of engineering and performance skills to solve challenges, also displayed its work. The Destination Imagination students demonstrated a table-top circus they had built using common household items such as pipe cleaners, paper cups, Popsicle sticks, plastic spoons, aluminum foil, tape, and glue.

Carroll County Middle School also held its Spring Artists Showcase on April 26 when its concert and jazz band performed, along with the school’s choir.  Various paintings and drawings were also displayed in the hallways for friends, family and community members to view.

Carroll County High School holds its band concert on Sunday, May 6, at 2 p.m.  The concert band, jazz band, steel band, clarinet choir, and jazz ensemble all perform various pieces.

Cartmell Elementary hosts it Spring Artists Showcase on Monday, May 14, which features a meal beginning at 6:15 p.m. for those who have pre-ordered tickets. A pre-show features a competition between the Cartmell Junior Historical Society and the Carroll County Historical Society in a version of “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”  The showcase of art, music, dance, and drama begins at 6:30 p.m.

Finally, the Carroll County High School vocal choir will perform at Cartmell Elementary School gymnasium on May 17 at 7 p.m.

“Research shows that the more students are involved at school and the more connected they are to the schools, the better they do,” said James, who employed that philosophy in developing a music program for the first time at the Carroll County Alternative Learning Center (CCALC).

When former CCHS band director Jeff Root came out of retirement to take a position at the CCALC this school year, she asked him to begin a percussion ensemble. The students perform on five gallon plastic buckets and call themselves the “Carroll County Comeback Kids.”

The ensemble is featured in the summer 2012 edition of the Bluegrass Music News, the bi-annual publication of the Kentucky Music Educators Association. Several members also earned eleven Distinguished Ratings at the Fifth District KMEA Solo and Ensemble Festival in February,   the first time ever that students from the ALC have competed at a KMEA Music Festival.

James gives much of the credit for the expansion of the arts program in the district to North American Stainless for their financial support over the past four years.  James said each school has received $5,000 a year to provide additional arts programming.  The schools have used the funds for a variety of uses including visiting artists who often spend extended time at the school working with students in creating different projects.

At Cartmell, for example, Louisville stone carvers Albert and Penny Nelson worked with students to create a sun dial and school sign out of stone.  Actor and playwright Bob Ford wrote and directed a play about Carroll County’s history, which students performed earlier in April.  Owen County potter Greg Seigel worked with students at Winn Primary to create a mosaic of an apple tree depicting all four seasons. The students helped create and set clay tiles in place.

Carroll County High School brought in Sandip Burman, a sitar and tabla player, to perform the traditional Indian instruments for the students and to teach about the difference between Eastern and Western musical scales. 

Carroll County Middle School brought in a variety of performers to introduce students to other cultures and raise awareness about bullying.  Performances included African Drummers, Chinese Acrobats, and Wonders of the Rain Forest, as well as dramatic productions about Aesop’s Fables and African American baseball legend Satchel Paige.

James said that one of her goals has been to create more opportunities in the arts for students because, especially in rural areas like Carroll County and her hometown in Indiana, it’s sometimes difficult for students to have access to quality art.

“I’m really excited about the energy we have been able to create for the arts, not only in the school district, but as a community,” James said. “When members of the community come up to students they have heard perform in the choir and say how much they enjoyed the performance, it really sticks with those students.  It builds confidence and creates great memories.”


Jeff Fremin is director of public relations for Carroll County Public Schools.