Winthrop summer arts program stirs passions in middle-school students

cwest@heraldonline.comJune 25, 2013 

At this time of year, Winthrop University’s classrooms are filled with creative middle-schoolers hard at work.

This summer marks the 25th anniversary of the university’s ST-ARTS program, where students in sixth through eighth grades spend three weeks exploring the arts. Over the years, more than 8,500 students have participated in the program.

ST-ARTS participants audition for and participate in one of the four major arts areas: drama, dance, visual arts and music.

“The program is amazing,” said Mary Shockley, a drama teacher. “Arts programs like this one are important because they keep the kids in schools and out of trouble. It helps them express themselves.”

She said that many students find a home in the community that the arts offer.

Mimi Egbert, another teacher in the ST-ARTS drama department, said, “I love how excited they are to be here.”

That, Egbert said, is the big difference between the ST-ARTS program and the arts classes the students take at their middle schools. ST-ARTS students are passionate and enthusiastic, not just participating for an elective credit.

“These kids do it for the joy of doing it,” she said. “There’s no pressure for a grade.”

“They are in a class full of other students who are interested in art,” said visual arts teacher Andrea Downs. “It helps them feed off each other. They get better together.”

Another aspect of ST-ARTS that sets it apart from the arts education students get in school is the specialized material. Theater students are able to delve into directing and puppetry, while music students explore African drumming and music technology.

Mark Lewis, ST-ARTS’ music technology teacher, said, “It’s the supplementary classes such as this that make the program special.”

Quinn Hernandez, 17, is working as an assistant at ST-ARTS this summer and studied drama in the program when he was in middle school.

“I really liked directing,” he said, “and it is because of that class that I realized that’s what I want to do with my life.”

Dance student Claudine Victorin, 14, said, “My favorite class is African. I’ve never taken it before, so it’s something different.”

The students improve drastically over the three summers that they participate in the program.

“It’s funny now to think about the rising ninth-graders when they were just coming out of the sixth grade,” said visual arts teacher Jessica Reynolds. “They were so quiet and timid and weren’t really confident in their art.

“Now, they’re proud and vocal and have become great leaders in the program.”

“I think I’ve improved a lot,” said visual arts student Lucas Grondin, 12. “Now I can tell myself, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’

“It has given me lots of confidence.”

“I think I’ve widened the variety of what I can act as,” said drama student Hunter Wilson, 14.

“ST-ARTS is definitely a good thing to participate in,” Wilson said.

Another drama student, Rory Sims, 12, agrees.

“I was just going to have a plain old summer,” he said, “but this is really fun, and you learn a lot of new things.”

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Chandler West •  803-329-4033

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