New public-private partnership in Charleston launches to give students more access to arts

grace beahm/staff The Pepperhill Elementary Choir, accompanied by music teacher Derek Street on guitar, performs Monday. Engaging Creative Minds hopes to bring the arts to all tri-county schools. Buy this photo

South Carolina’s poet laureate, Marjory Wentworth, plans to help Angel Oak Elementary fifth-graders this spring create poetry portfolios on World War I and World War II.


The new effort is a combination of public and private money totaling $400,000. Officials did not specify how much each group donated.

Public donors include Charleston County School District, Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, the College of Charleston, Youth Endowment for the Arts/Charleston Marathon, and S.C. Arts Commission.

Private donors include The Boeing Co., Target, the McNair Law Firm, Gil Shuler Graphic Design, Alloneword and Anita Zucker.

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Go to postand videos to see Pepperhill Elementary students perform.

Their eight-week project will culminate with students presenting to their parents and visiting the aircraft carrier Yorktown, where they will write more poetry under Wentworth’s tutelage.

That’s one example of the kind of artist-to-student connections that are being made possible through a new public-private partnership announced Monday. The goal of Engaging Creative Minds is to give third- through sixth-grade students in the tri-county area more access to the arts during and after school.

“Public money does not go far enough,” said Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley.

“This is bringing everyone together under one umbrella to get all children involved in the arts.”

The effort is launching with $400,000 raised from a combination of public and private funds, and the goal is to increase that to more than $1 million annually. About 55 percent of the first-year funds are public money.

Engaging Creative Minds will this spring begin serving more than 1,700 students at eight elementary schools: Angel Oak, Ashley River Creative Arts, Jennie Moore, James Island, James Simons, Ladson, Memminger and Pepperhill. The plan is to expand to neighboring Berkeley and Dorchester schools within five years.

Organizers plan to infuse arts in the curriculum and further engage students in learning, as well as give classroom teachers and artists more training and planning time to enhance the level of existing arts integration.

At Pepperhill Elementary in North Charleston, that means Principal Tanya Underwood has asked her teachers to identify the lessons in which students have the least interest. Her North Charleston school will receive about $12,000 from the partnership this school year to work with artists, and she said she’d like to use the arts to get students interested in those units. “(Students) love the arts,” she said.

The hour-long Monday press conference during which officials touted the new partnership included a performance by Pepperhill Elementary students. Music teacher Derek Street played the guitar while students sang “As Long As You Love Me” by teen phenom Justin Bieber and “Live Like a Warrior” by Matisyahu.

Some students belted out the lyrics while others danced and used their hands to act them out. Street said singing the songs is a way for students to practice literacy; saying the words helps their fluency, and talking about what the artist means teaches them how to emote.

Engaging Creative Minds is working to establish itself as a nonprofit organization, and it’s modeled on Big Thought, which is a Dallas-based nonprofit made of public-private partnerships.

Charleston officials have worked for 18 months on this project and have involved more than 80 individuals representing arts, business and community groups.

Many of those leaders showed up at the press conference and expressed excitement about the potential. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley was among them, saying this would give students more opportunities to develop their creativity and think critically.

The partnership plans to evaluate how it works in classrooms. “If we really want to help our students become everything they can, it is going to take the entire community working together,” said Jim Braunreuther, Charleston County School District’s fine arts coordinator.

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