Third graders created musical instruments called dejembes, which serve as a focal point for storytelling in Mali culture.
Over 4,000 K-12 students from Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Staunton, and the counties of Rockingham, Highland and Augusta may stand a better chance of passing their Virginia Standards of Learning this year thanks to an educational program sponsored by the Madison Art Collection at James Madison University.
The program, conducted by Melanie Brimhall, Director of the Madison Art Collection, focuses its efforts on art and culture relevant to second, third and fourth grade SOL topics. Between 35 to 120 students typically participate in full or half-day sessions, which consist of presentations and hands-on activities about people and places being studied back in the classroom. Topics include the Native Americans, Ancient Egypt and Ancient China for second graders; Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and West Africa for third graders; and the Native Americans in Virginia for fourth graders.
Students from Riverheads Elementary School learned about the country of Mali in West Africa through a mock cattle crossing, a meal representative of the region (curry corn, West African spiced chicken, savory sweet potatoes, and flat bread) and a hands-on discussion about tools, clothes and other objects indigenous to the area of study. Using these objects from the university's collection, the workshops, according to Brimhall, "allow us to bring the museum to life. We take objects from the museum space and give them relevance within the culture of the people who created them. The students learn how and why an object was produced, as well as about the daily lives of the people who used it."
For example, the people of Mali come together—for festivals and storytelling—around a hand drum called a dejembe. Third graders got a chance to make their own noise—and their own dejembes—out of popcorn tubs and tissue paper. Feathers and straw were used for another activity, where students created their own animal masks. Masking and animals are significant aspects of Mali culture.
Held every Tuesday and Thursday, Brimhall conducted more than 30 full-day workshops during the Fall 2010 semester. For more information on the K-12 workshops, visit http://www.jmu.edu/madisonart/programs.html. Schools not already registered will be put on a waiting list; the full-day workshops are filled for Spring 2011.