Students Get Cultural with Arts

Westminster Presbyterian students delve into African culture as part of their unit.
Westminster Presbyterian students delve into African culture as part of their unit.

“Jambo” replaced “hello,” and “karibu” supplanted “welcome” in the hallways and classrooms at Westminster Presbyterian Preschool and Kindergarten this year.

It was part of a year-long study of African culture at the Devonshire school that has become the most ambitious and perhaps most rewarding addition to the school’s fine-arts curriculum.

From 2-year-olds greeting one another in Swahili, to kindergarteners learning tribal chants and dances, to art projects that fill the school with paintings of exotic animals and masks made of milk jugs, it has provided a new experience for students and teachers alike.

IMG_0639“We want it to be fun and age-appropriate, but it also introduces them to new domains,” said WPPK director Cris Watson. “No one area of development takes precedence or priority for us.”

The school of 194 students from age 1 to kindergarten has a separate staff for fine arts in addition to its regular classroom studies. That means there are specialized teachers dedicated to art, music, and the library, where they tailor lessons to intimate classes of 6-8 students.

Each year, the administration selects a theme for its fine-arts program. This year’s African emphasis has brought guest speakers including a family member of one student who was a missionary in Uganda, as well as musicians and storytellers.

“It’s about planting the seeds of awareness for how other people live,” Watson said. “They’re totally immersed in it every day. It’s to build relationships and knowledge that they can carry forward with them.”

Watson said many of the lessons have stuck with the children despite their limited levels of comprehension. Some of the projects have included detailed paintings of animals on the savanna, giraffe collages, and illustrations of Masai tribe members.

“We have all these opportunities that other schools don’t have,” said art teacher Tori Pendergrass. “One of my goals is to introduce them to different materials they don’t get at home or in the classroom.”

The school culminated its effort with an art show on May 1 that included tie-dyed dashiki shirts, as well as original songs and poems that reflected an unusually high level of knowledge and maturity.

“Choosing that theme this year had so much to offer,” Watson said. “It definitely has been a full-year journey.”

This story appeared in the June issue of Preston Hollow People.

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