Arts Renaissance in Tuscaloosa Schools

Bringing the arts to Tuscaloosa-area schools.

Dancing Through the Decades With Fitness

Although the semester was cut short, there is still so much to be thankful for. I am disappointed that there was not an opportunity to complete the rest of the workshops our class had prepared, but I am incredibly thankful for such a supportive group of individuals to work alongside, and who were so willing to help me in creating and refining my proposed workshop.

My proposed workshop, Dancing Through the Decades, is one that combines dancing, history, and music. Through this workshop, students will learn about key events from the 1920’s all the way to 2020. Some examples of events to be covered are the stock market crash of the 1920’s, the Civil Rights Movement, and 9/11, along with many more. In addition to learning about the basic facts of each event of the particular decade, there is a song from that decade that is paired with a fitness routine. This way, the students are able to learn about our nation’s history in a fun, engaging way, while exercise and physical fitness are also being promoted.

An example of a slide to be presented about the 1960’s explaining different aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. A portion of the song “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke would accompany this part of the presentation.

By watching and following along to a video, the kids will perform the fitness routine for that particular decade after learning about the event. For example, World War II was happening during the 1940’s. For this decade, the song is “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” This will allow the students to further understand what was happening during the 1940’s while also encouraging them to think about how Americans were keeping their spirits up during a worldwide war was being waged. At the end of the presentation, the students will piece each routine together to perform the dance in its entirety. They will perform this routine, with the help of the presenter and the videos, of course, to reflect on what they have learned during the workshop.

From Irvin Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” to Kanye West’s “Power,” the workshop encourages students to have pride in America’s history while also being encouraged to think about how music is able to reflect the current events happening around them. Through this proposed workshop, it is my hope that the students will find that exercising can be so much fun, and that history goes far beyond a textbook, reaching into all aspects of our society.

Oh The Places You’ll Go

Constructing paper airplanes was an adventure for local fifth graders. On February 13, 2020 we traveled to Matthews Elementary School to construct paper airplanes. Each leader had an idea of how they would begin their lesson, but once we got in the classroom and met the students our lesson was tweaked to better fit the kids. We realized most of the students have never made paper airplanes or have never folded a piece of paper before. Therefore, tweaking our lesson plan was needed. A few of the leaders decided to go table by table instructing the students how to make each fold. Many students were correct but not confident in themselves. If that was the case we would lift them up with a positive attitude and state they were correct. 

Each leader started with a brief powerpoint regarding information about the airplanes. The powerpoint will teach students about the dynamics of flight, the Wright brothers, and the four forces of flight. 

After the powerpoint the building and designing of the airplane begins. Students were encouraged to make the airplane we were showing them to make but if they knew how to make a different airplane they were able to make it. After the airplane was constructed the students were able to color and design their airplane however they wanted to. 

After their airplanes were constructed the students went out in the hallway to throw their paper airplanes. Of course it was a contest and prizes would be given to the plane that went the farthest. 

Each leader had a few extra New College bling to hand out as a prize. A few leaders picked the plane that was unique. A few leaders noticed how patient and how hard a certain student worked and would give the prize to them. 

This activity was a lot of fun! Students enjoyed making the airplanes and of course throwing them to win fun prizes. Students also enjoyed learning about airplanes. Our leaders were a little anxious working on this project because when we did the trial run our airplanes needed a little help. Some students could tell that their friends needed help constructing the airplanes and they would help each other. 

We are always looking for volunteers. Be on the lookout for the next project.

Paper Airplane Workshop

This week we will travel to Matthews Elementary School to introduce an art workshop making paper airplanes. We will teach the students about the dynamics of flight. Each student will design their own airplane using crayons and markers. They will also experiment with assorted weights to test the effects and learn about gravity and speed.

After creating their own paper airplanes, the students will have a contest to see whose plane goes the farthest. The semifinalists will compete and winners will receive Alabama bling!

We are so excited to work with these 5th-grade students. Volunteers are welcome! If anyone would like to volunteer, contact one of us!


Reflecting on the Many Faces of Matthews Elementary

This past week, we had the privilege of visiting Matthews Elementary to conduct an arts workshop for local fifth graders. Although everyone involved did have a lot of fun, each volunteer ended up learning so much more than any of us had expected. Through interacting with the kids, we realized just how much of an impact art can have on not only a child’s ability to express him or herself, but also how much of an impact it can have on a child’s overall wellbeing.

Coming in, the children were anxious to see what they would be doing. They were all excited to be out of their formal classroom setting, and eager to find out what their next activity would be. As Dr. Galbraith explained the history behind face jugs, some of the kids began to get excited while others were much more tentative and judgmental of the project, based off of the pictures that were shown. However, as soon as they were handed their own clay to make their jugs, the atmosphere and their outlooks changed immediately.

The children began as incredibly lively, but as soon as their fingers started molding the clay, the room grew to be much quieter. They were concentrating and working diligently to make their jugs. It was so intriguing to watch as a plain jug transformed into a face that had originally been trapped inside of their imagination. Slowly but surely, their ideas came to fruition. There were so many different elements between the jugs, and each element was representative of their cultural norms. The kids were able to express themselves and pieces of what made them who they are through art, specifically pottery.

While it was incredibly insightful to see them able to express themselves in a different way than they would if they were in a “normal” classroom setting, what really was striking about the workshop was how the wellbeing of so many children changed. None of the kids coming in were outright angry, however some of the children weren’t the happiest campers. But through this activity and the students being in an uplifting, positive environment without the pressure of doing well in a specified subject, the kids were able to walk out of the cafeteria in an even better mood and headspace than when they came to the workshop.

Overall, the workshop was very enjoyable for everyone involved. Getting to see firsthand how children communicate their thoughts and themselves through their art is so rewarding, and we are eager to return to Matthews Elementary School for future workshops.

Completed face jugs of fifth grade students. Photograph taken by Mackenzie Manns.

Spring 2020 Workshop: Face Jugs

ARTS workshops begin again this Thursday, January 28 from 1-2 PM.  We need volunteers. You will assist the workshop leader by guiding students as they complete the activity. This week, students will make face jugs out of clay. 

Face jug by folk potter Reggie Meaders

Please contact Dr. Marysia Galbraith ( if you want to sign up to volunteer. There will be two per month over the course of the semester, and they will be on Thursdays from 1-2. 

Closing Out the Semester

This Friday, our Community Arts class will be finishing our sessions with the Alabama Blues Project. It has been a lot of fun working with the  5th grade at Matthews Elementary. Together as teachers, we learned that with the right guidance, children are capable of incredible amounts of creativity. This semester the children learned interpersonal and self presentation skills through cartoon self portraits and theater activities. They also learned collaboration and planning skills through painting murals. Breaking out of comfort zones was an obstacle that they had to occasionally overcome, but once they pushed past and got started on their artwork or activity, they gained confidence and exceeded our expectations. Through discussion, we learned strategies and insights to take back to our individual communities and careers to improve living no matter how small the change. After this semester and beyond, the three of us will have experience and strategies to evaluate and better our different environments through art and collaboration.

Growth in Presentation

As we’ve worked with the Alabama Blues Project thus far, we have seen continuously how the students (as well as ourselves as the teachers) have learned and grown through the process of making art. However, rarely have we been able to so directly and so quickly make an impact as we did today.

After working mostly with visual art projects and with the students’ final show coming up, it seemed only fitting to put their presentation skills to the test! The vocal students got the opportunity to stand up in front of their friends and fellow students and introduce themselves as well as a fun fact about themselves. We elaborated on what the vocal teacher had already taught the students and focused on diction, projection, and stage presence. This means making sure the audience can understand you, can hear you, and can see you.

The difference between the first round and the second was staggering! The shyest of students broke out of their shell in a matter of five minutes, volunteering to go again and asking questions. Every student stood taller and spoke louder and more clearly the second go around. And when we asked if anything was different between the first and second times, almost every single one of them expressed how much more confident they were after going through it once.

It was heartwarming and exciting to watch the students enjoy presenting themselves, and I look forward to seeing how far they’ve come at their final performance!


Encouraging Art

Throughout the last few months, I have been so pleasantly surprised at the students of Matthews Elementary Schools. Working with the Alabama Blues Project has given me a new perspective on the institution of ar

ts in the schools. Growing up in a public school, I was limited to the programs introduced to me; however, because of the hard work and determination of The Alabama Blues Project, these students are receiving chances that many other students their age are deprived of.


I believe the skills that these children are learning will follow them throughout life. Often, the students play as their uninterested, but as soon as they are given a task or purpose their eyes light up. This is why I do this. Watching the children experience new activities and ways of learning build confidence in themselves and one another. The children of Matthews Elementary encourage one another during every task set in front of them. I believe that arts should be encouraged in schools because when children create others are encouraged.

I have been reminded this semester that change in a school system can be impactful no matter how small. It is better to begin small than never start at all.

Cartooning at Matthews Elementary

Cartooning is more than just creating overdrawn caricatures, and the fifth grade students of Matthews Elementary School caught a glimpse into that world this past week. The lesson was to draw cartoons of themselves included with adjectives that best described them, while simultaneously bringing out their creativity. The fifth graders were encouraged to exaggerate their favorite feature on their face and then, using lines to create spaces in the background, fill in the spaces with adjectives that best describe themselves like “kind” or “funny” or “smart.”


All of the students that I was able to talk to were extremely enthusiastic about their work. Perhaps the only downfall was that most of them were intent on making their cartoon drawings “perfect;” however, this gave us the chance to show the real reason that we decided to do this activity: to boost self-confidence and cultivate creativity that was not necessarily realistic. By the end of the session, the students seemed to be grasping the concept that cartoons don’t have to look real; in fact, often they don’t and shouldn’t.

When the time came around at the end of class to present their work, it was amazing to witness the shyer students getting out of their comfort zone and presenting their cartoons to their fellow classmates. They were proud, and it was heartwarming to watch.

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