At the Community Academy Public Charter School in northwest Washington, fifth- and sixth-grade students have been practicing for six hours a week. They are rehearsing movements for a play designed to teach them about their history and civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy Height.
“I have to know her every part, everything that she does, how she acted and things of that nature,” said 9-year-old Jana Washington, who plays Height in the production.
She and 19 other students have studied the lives of Dr. Height and other civil rights leaders in their classes. However, Height’s death has given new meaning and significance to the drama they’ve been rehearsing now for weeks.
“I think it’s pretty amazing,” said Caren Hearne, Art Educational Outreach Coordinator and play director. “A lot of them have never done anything like this before and a lot of the training that it usually takes, they don’t have. They don’t have the vocabulary. Now, they’re using actors’ voices, dancers’ voices, and getting a great sense of teamwork and working together.”
It’s the first year that the school has offered a humanities curriculum that integrates drama, music, history and art. Students are studying the works of Harlem Renaissance artists like Aaron Douglass and Jacob Lawrence, as well as author Faith Ringgold; and they are learning to express themselves through colorful drawings, murals, quilts and poetry. All of their work will go on exhibit next month in the school’s own Harmon Gallery.
“It’s helping them to improve their vocabulary and helping them to be able to get in touch with themselves and their culture,” said art teacher Elaine Edwards.
The students are not only learning to express themselves and their experiences through the arts, their reading has improved, and they’re learning problem-solving skills, as well as the importance of teamwork and personal responsibility, all tools that Dr. Height relied on throughout her life and career.
“She called herself like a Sankofa bird … that moves forward while looking back,” said music teacher Heavenly McDuffie about Height. “She’s been a person who moved forward but also looked back ... and gathered the community and brought them up as well.”
The children at CAPC are part of that community, and part of the many generations inspired by Height’s life and work. Since beginning rehearsals for the play, the students have had nearly perfect attendance. They are beneficiaries of a legacy that’s obviously inspiring them to work hard, to dance, to hope…and to dream!!
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The CAPC started its new humanities program with the help of a small grant from the Lorton Arts Foundation. They need public donations to keep the program going.
"Adversity + Diversity = Strength & Resilience," a dramatic, musical production about the life of Height will be presented Saturday, May 8, in the Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstein Theatre on the Ernest and Virginia Amos campus of the Community Academy Public Charter School at 1400 First St. NW. An art gallery reception begins at 5:30 p.m. followed by the production at 6 p.m.