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Pittsburgh Cultural Trust team delights, educates St. Luke students

St. Luke Lutheran School sixth-graders Carrissa Kovalic, left, and Rachel Salinas work with Candace Walker from Pittsburgh Cultural Trust on Thursday, March 14. Walker taught the students how to perform the classic pantomime, “pulling a rope.” The group visited the school to share a message of collaboration with students. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle
Collaboration the theme of high-energy program

Students at St. Luke Lutheran School were on their feet dancing in the gymnasium Thursday, March 14, but they were learning an important lesson at the same time.

Educators from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust held the raucous and interactive Collaboration Festival, a Celebration of the African Diaspora, in the gym before the six leaders of the program split up and went to different areas of the school for smaller group sessions.

The program was scheduled as part of the school’s celebration of Lutheran Schools Week.

The Collaboration Festival in the gym saw students in kindergarten through eighth grade following the journey of a solo artist who learns about the power of collaboration and community through encountering other artists who have the skills and knowledge to create a collaborative and thrilling performance for the festival.

The performance engaged the student audience through interaction with the professional African American performers who portray the artists.

Dennis Garner Jr., arts education team lead, played the solo artist who learned the power of collaboration on his journey.

He appreciated the engagement and energy of the St. Luke students, which he said helps fuel the performances of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust education team.

“They were awesome,” Garner said. “They responded almost as if they were part of the show.”

The students continued in their fascination for the program when they broke into smaller groups to interact with the performers.

Candace Walker, a teaching artist with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, wore the white pancake facial makeup of a pantomime artist.

In the library, she gave a brief lesson in “miming” to many students, including those in the sixth-grade class of teacher Rachel Robinson, who loved the visit from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust educators.

“More than anything, we need diversity,” said Robinson, who happily practiced pulling an invisible rope and examining the walls of an invisible box where she and students were trapped, according to Walker’s instructions.

Walker told the student to pretend a stubborn St. Bernard was on the other end of the invisible rope, and bend the knees, extend one leg back, lean forward, and grab the leash with two hands splayed apart at equal height from the floor.

After examining the leash and being trapped in a box, she played “See the Best in Me,” a song that the students mimed along to. “I am great. I can create,” “I’m a shining light,” and “Got my smile, and I got my own style” were a few lyrics from the song.

“Music and lyrics are things a child remembers for a long time, and positive lyrics are really important,” Walker said.

She lamented that so much of the music youth are exposed to today contains negative lyrics.

“We are in trouble when it comes to positive music,” Walker said.

She hopes students leave her session and the Collaboration Festival program with one message.

“The power of imagination can make things real,” Walker said.

In the music room, Aaron Crutchfield, a theater arts actor at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, held an improv session in the school’s music room.

In the exercise, students one by one announced what animal or object they were, then froze in that position.

After six or so students were frozen in their positions, another student came up with a story using all the animals and objects.

Fourth-grader Emma Kroll said the improv exercise was her favorite.

“I liked how we could act out a lot of things and pretend to be different things,” Emma said.

Exposure to the performers from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust helps students, such as Emma, who are considering acting as a career someday.

“It gives us a head start,” she said. “It’s just fun and exciting.”

Emma’s classmate, Isaac Ambrose, said he most enjoyed the all-school activity in the gym, where he learned an important lesson.

“It’s better when you work together,” Isaac said.

He played a snake in the improv exercise.

“I think it was fun and interesting to do,” Isaac said.

Diane Beckstead, St. Luke’s music teacher and coordinator of the visit by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, said a significant donation by an anonymous benefactor in the community made the visit possible.

“We call them our music angel,” Beckstead said.

She said the program gave the students one-on-one exposure to professional artists who are of a different ethnicity than themselves, and that many different types of art exist in the world.

“I wanted an experience for the kids that would broaden their thinking,” Beckstead said. “I would definitely have them back again.”

Angela Turner, principal at St. Luke, agreed.

“I believe it is important for our students to have an appreciation of different cultures and different ways to express themselves,” she said. “It’s also important to hear the positive messages the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is presenting in each session.”

Turner said she hopes the students truly learned the important message they were presented with Thursday.

“It’s important to understand the need to work together,” she said.

Candace Walker, a teaching artist from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, prepares to give students at St. Luke Lutheran School a lesson on pantomime on Thursday, March 14. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle
Aaron Crutchfield, a theater arts actor at Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, was one of six performers and educators who visited St.Luke Lutheran School in Jefferson Township on Thursday, March 14, to spread a message of collaboration. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle
St. Luke Lutheran School fourth- graders participate in a lesson by Pittsburgh Cultural Trust theater arts actor Aaron Crutchfield on Thursday, March 14. The group visited the school to teach a lesson on collaboration. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle
Candace Walker, a teaching artist from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, gave students at St. Luke Lutheran School a fun lesson in pantomime during the group’s visit Thursday, March 14. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle
At the direction of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust performer Aaron Crutchfield, St.Luke Lutheran School sixth grader Isaac Ambrose plays a snake during one small-group exercise Thursday on improvisational acting. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle
J.P. Bocian, a sixth-grader at St. Luke Lutheran School in Jefferson Township, "conducts an orchestra" during a lesson on pantomime. The exercise was the result of a visit by actors and educators from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle

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