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Leader of the band: Scott Rush wants more arts education

From the Charleston Post and Courier Article by Adam Parker, photos by Grace Beahm

For Scott Rush, nothing could be finer than to stand before a school band and make music. He has tried to make it a lifelong habit, though his skills as an educator have propelled him up the chain of command and away from the band room. Today, Rush is director of fine and performing arts for Dorchester District 2, a generally high-performing public school system that serves the lower half of Dorchester County, especially the Summerville area. His years in education have taught him that a school curriculum infused with the arts improves learning,retention, test scores, behavior and general performance. The arts are considered vital if educators are to teach “the whole person,” he said. As the Charleston County School District grapples with an $18 million budget shortfall, representing about 4 percent of its $430 million annual operating budget, it’s making cuts that impact arts education. Dorchester District 2, a smaller district with a $187 million operating budget, instead has strengthened its commitment to arts education and empowered Rush to encourage collaboration and improve programming. In 2007, a federal arts grant for Alston Middle School allowed district officials to add fine arts programs that resulted in improved attendance, discipline and math and literacy scores. A recent federal grant for River Oaks Middle School and Eagle Nest Elementary School enabled the district to add more arts technology, an arts-dedicated technology associate and a drama teacher, introducing theater as a new core area of study at the two schools. “We hope that this infusion of more arts education will show some of the same successes,” Rush said. More than 70 percent of the district’s students participate in a fine arts class. More than 450 students enrolled in two fine arts summer enrichment programs. Lasting impressions The value of the arts to school learning became clear to Rush when he was a young student in Camden, where he grew up. His father was minister of music at church; his siblings played guitar and sang. At 4, Rush learned the ukulele. And music was a big part of the school day. At Camden Middle School, dynamic choral and band teachers offered Rush a glimpse of his own future. “By eighth grade I knew I wanted to play French horn,” he recalled. In high school, he realized he wanted to be a band director. He majored in music at the University of South Carolina, attended the Brevard Music Center as a student and counselor in the summers, played second horn in the South Carolina Philharmonic and joined the 1986 Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra. It was good preparation for the New England Conservatory of Music, where Rush earned his master’s degree. He was in Boston for nearly four years, studying and freelancing. In 1990, he moved to Atlanta, performed with several ensembles and taught at nearby Kennesaw State University. The performing life was fast becoming routine and unfulfilling, Rush said. He’d warm up, rehearse, perform; warm up, rehearse, perform. It wasn’t enough. “A friend asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ Well, I’ve always wanted to be a band director.” Dream come true Rush, then in his late 20s, moved back to South Carolina and took a job at Newberry Middle School. He earned less money, but he was finally doing what he loved the most. He was there seven years. Then, in 1999, he applied for an open position at Wando High School.

“I couldn’t turn that down,” Rush said. Teaching band at Wando was a dream come true. He flourished there for 15 years. “They were fantastic years. Everything about that job I loved.”

Wando had 108 band students when Rush first arrived and 282 when he left. All the while, Rush racked up the state and national awards. “Every child has the ability to fall in love with an art form,” he said. “If you are going to teach the whole child, Mozart and Michelangelo are just as important as Einstein and Shakespeare,” he said. He’s proud that 44 of his former students have pursued careers as professional musicians. Support from above Rush said Dorchester District 2 Superintendent Joe Pye provides invaluable support. And that commitment trickles down. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="520"]Flutists Drew Smith-Jones and Dartagnan Brownlee rehearse under the direction of Scott Rush at Ashley Ridge High School. Flutists Drew Smith-Jones and Dartagnan Brownlee rehearse under the direction of Scott Rush at Ashley Ridge High School.[/caption] “Art is intrinsic for the kids,” said Glenn Huggins, assistant superintendent over curriculum and instruction. For example, in a social studies class recently, Huggins noticed the teacher was discussing the Egyptian pyramids with students. Down the hall in art class, students also were working on pyramids and talking about ancient Egyptian history. That was not by chance. It was a result of the kind of coordination the district encourages and Rush helps achieve. In 2003, another friend suggested that Rush write a book about teaching band. He thought about it for a second, then got to work. “Habits of a Successful Band Director” was a surprise hit, and it led to the writing of six more method books in the “Habits” series, some co-authored by Jeff Scott and Emily Wilkinson or Christopher Selby. Selby directs the Charleston County School of the Arts Symphony Orchestra. He said Rush insists on maintaining high standards. “I saw that on the marching band field at Wando, and I see it in Dorchester District 2,” Selby said. “He does work very hard to be the best and to have the best and to create the best.” He also has a clear vision for the direction music education has to go, Selby said. It must go is toward a more robust curriculum that includes the arts: STEAM, not STEM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math. “Any education that focuses on just one half of the brain is insufficient,” Selby said. “STEM was missing a limb. In order for education philosophy to be complete, it includes the arts.” Community Rush is a key partner for area arts organizations such as the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Gaillard Center and Engaging Creative Minds, which collaborate with educators to enhance school districts’ offerings. “We have found that it’s a homerun,” Rush said. “You’d think everybody would embrace arts-infused education. But equally important is art for art’s sake.” What happens to a young listener when she hears Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings or views Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee”? How do they resonate in her imagination? How might they improve her quality of life? For some students, the arts are more than a passing interest, hobby or method for enhancing academic performance; the arts provide a means of expression, a license to be creative, Rush said. “The instruction we provide (students) should be strong enough, substantial enough ... to enable them to pursue a career,” he said. “(Educators) can’t pick and choose what’s important and not so important to any individual student.” More than 25,000 students at three high schools, six middle schools, 15 elementary schools and one alternative school benefit from this approach.

“Creativity is as essential as literacy”

From the Summerville-Journal Scene: Article & photos by Monica Kreber Image: Talon Pinion does a little dance while playing the steel drums.

When a visitor walks into Kurry Seymour's music class, students greet the visitor with a chorus of, “Welcome to our community.” Seymour teaches multicultural music and arts at Joe Pye Elementary and, according to Seymour, it is the only school in the country that has a “world music” room with instruments that expose students to the cultures and practices of more than 15 different countries. Seymour is taking his own approach to teach community, focus, purpose and life skills to DD2 students through multicultural music. “The focus on community and how everyone matters is the guiding principle in my room,” Seymour said, adding that teachers from within DD2 and across the state come to observe the room and “community” regularly. Seymour's room is adorned with instruments from all over — such as steel drums from Trinidad and Tobago, and the taiko drums from Japan. “All the instruments are authentic — they're from all over the world,” Seymour said. Seymour said at Joe Pye Elementary there are two music rooms; one that is more vocal and choral-based, while his is instrumental. The biggest thing, however, that he is trying to teach is community. The classroom is set up in such a way so students sit in a U-shaped assembly. They start with a “focus time,” where they look to each other and welcome their peers into the community. In Seymour's classroom it is important that students know everybody matters. “I use a lot of stuff that I do with them to teach them how to focus and have purpose,” he said. “There's a really unique flow.” Seymour said more people are taking to this approach because it is all fun for the students; it still covers state standards but students find it more exciting. “They have to learn to read music, and they have to read and play because they find it exciting to play it on the drums,” he said. “The whole concept is if you don't get a child excited young enough, like everything — science, math, music — then why would they go to middle school and do it?” Seymour said he pushes them the same way he would with college students, but said it is not anything out of the students' capability. They learn songs and hand signals from their teacher. All grades get to interact with the instruments, on various levels. Seymour uses a tactic called whole brain teaching, which is based on call and response — an idea from Africa. “It changed the way my classroom operates,” he said. “The teachers are starting to use more of it. Our whole school uses it. They're using it in other schools because the hardest problem is keeping a kid engaged. The whole brain teaching thing keeps them engaged, with hand gestures and things to keep them moving.” Seymour praises the Fine Arts Department at Joe Pye Elementary, saying all teachers try to connect their lessons in order to better help students. “I probably couldn't really duplicate this job anywhere else,” he said. “I've never seen a district embrace the arts like this one. “I believe creativity is as essential as literacy,” he said. “If a kid can't read we have a problem with it, and if a kid can't be free to be creative — and feel safe in an environment to do that — then I have a problem with that. I want them to be creative. Whether it's in my room, or the dance room or the art room or the P.E. room, this is their opportunity to be free and have a good time.”

Dorchester School District fine arts director leaving after 15 years

larrybarnfieldLarry Barnfield has worked tirelessly to advance arts education as fine arts director for Dorchester School District Two and statewide as a board member and leader for many organizations. In 2010, Barnfield was honored with the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for the Arts, and in 2013, he received Winthrop University's Medal of Honor in the Arts.

From the Summerville Journal Scene:

Larry Barnfield sees a lot of painting and music in his future.

For the past 15 years he has served as DD2’s fine arts director. Barnfield is now repositioning his life and leaving the district to pursue other ventures.

Barnfield came into DD2 in 1996 after working as a visual arts teacher in Berkeley County. When he took on the fine arts director job in DD2 it was a new position; he led the fine arts faculty as well as those who taught health and physical education in the district. Last year he oversaw a faculty of 192, though this year that number was reduced by 50 when the health and physical education instructors were moved from his department.

June 26 is his official last day in the district, and the arrival of that date stirs a lot of mixed feelings with Barnfield.

“I have loved the job,” he said. “The faculty are just wonderful and incredible. A majority of them have been with me the last 10 years, at least. We have worked together so many years so of course I’ll miss them.”

Barnfield does not plan to just disappear – he still plans to go to the performances and different events – except now he will be able to “relax more” whenever he attends.

Barnfield began making the decision to move on last fall, saying his wife of 25 years, Pamela, has been hoping for more time together. The couple has three adult daughters and two grandchildren and they love to travel – Pamela already has trips planned for the two of them.

In January Barnfield decided it was time to make the decision. He still plans to be involved with a number of things, mainly consulting work and doing fine arts grants for a number of different places. He also plans to help work with other school districts – in and out of the state.

Barnfield looks forward to being able to set his own hours and being able to get a lot of his work done electronically. In his spare time he plans to work on his own artistic skills; he has a graduate degree in painting and once worked as an exhibitor in New York. He is also going to hone his piano skills – lots of classical music like Mozart.

“I’m going to start and see if I can get my piano skills back at the time when they began to decline,” he said.

Barnfield’s artistic endeavors date all the way back to college but he has not always worked in the educational field. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Eastern Illinois. He taught visual arts for four years until he moved to Greenwich Village in New York City – the “happening” place for the arts. After about five years Barnfield returned to Illinois and was on the faculty at Illinois State University for four years, then left for Evansville, Ind., for close to 20 years and started working in art therapy, teaching students with disabilities. Barnfield went to a large teaching hospital in Evansville for about eight years and ran the staff for human resource development before returning to art therapy at the University of Evansville.

He finally relocated to Mt. Pleasant and worked as a visual arts teacher in Berkeley County. Barnsfield in particular wanted to work with children in order to enjoy the versatility of the job.

“Every day is different,” he said. “Every hour is different. It is challenging and has so much variety and I thrive on that.”

Barnfield will miss the people, their energy and their creativity. He will miss watching students develop artistically in the district.

“I get to see them develop and that’s just very enjoyable,” he said.

Barnfield is most proud of how the district has supported him in implementing a comprehensive fine arts program for the district; every school has a piano lab and the district has 13 full-time dance teachers – and dance is offered in six of the elementary schools so far.

“We have added and added more artistic opportunities for students, and students are spending more time studying the arts,” Barnfield said, “and it obviously isn’t affecting their test scores because they are still going up.”

Barnfield feels it is more important today for students to study the arts as a different way to communicate.

“Creativity is just crucial for the development, skill and career of our students,” he said. “They’ve got to have the creativity to move with that flow.”

After his last day Barnfield is leaving with his whole family for Hendersonville, N.C. He looks forward to getting more time with his wife, daughters and grandchildren.

“These last 15 years have been wonderful,” he said. “I feel good about it.”

Engaging Creative Minds seeks executive director

The newly launched Engaging Creative Minds program is seeking an executive director to serve as its first managing leader. The application deadline is January 21, 2013, and email applications are required.

Visit the Charleston Regional Alliance for the Arts' website to read the job description, which includes background about this initiative, the priorities of the executive director for the next 12-18 months and the application process. Engaging Creative Minds is a public/private education partnership, created through a community planning task force organized by the Charleston County School District, the College of Charleston School of the Arts, the College of Charleston School of Education, Health & Human Performance, the Youth Endowment for the Arts, the City of Charleston, City of North Charleston, the Charleston Regional Alliance for the Arts, Berkeley County School District and Dorchester County School District Two. The inspiration for Engaging Creative Minds came from the Dallas-based organization Big Thought, which provides arts integration curriculum and professional development for teachers and artists and hands-on engaged learning in the core subjects -- not just the arts -- in school, after school and during the summer. Documented results for the Dallas Unified School District include increased success in raising student engagement in learning, helping young people pass standards tests to move to the next grade level and increasing academic achievement levels. Via: Charleston Regional Alliance for the Arts, Engaging Creative Minds