MOUNTAIN PINE — Jermaine “Jay” McClure encourages his students to be “loud and proud” as they read their poetry during an English class at Mountain Pine High School.
But first, he demands “respect” for them from their fellow classmates.
“Respect … respect,” he repeats as he claps his hands to gain the students’ attention, noting that the young budding poets will not recite their poems until they have the undivided attention of the class.
McClure is not on staff at Mountain Pine High School. A resident of Little Rock, he is a “teaching artist” with the Arkansas Learning Through the Arts program, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the national Young Audiences Arts for Learning network. Craig Welle of Hot Springs Village serves as ALTTA executive director.
McClure spent almost two weeks at the Garland County school teaching seventh- and eighth-graders in English classes about poetry. He attended Philander Smith College and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he majored in theater and political science. He studied acting at The Actors Studio in Little Rock and has performed with the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and The Weekend Theatre. He also studied at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
In addition to working for ALTTA, McClure is a substitute teacher for the Pulaski County School District.
“Visits by these teaching artists give our students a great opportunity to see and experience things they don’t normally get to see,” said Tony Crosby, high school principal and former elementary school principal. “Mr. Welle and his artists have been coming to the elementary school for the past four years, providing our students with this opportunity to experience the arts. I am happy to welcome them now to the high school.”
Welle said this is the first year ALTTA has presented programs to high school students, focusing for the past several years on the elementary school level.
“The Mountain Pine School District has embraced us at the high school level,” Welle told recent visitors to Mountain Pine High School. “Most schools let us present a three-day session, but Mountain Pine has allowed us to be here five to eight days. Jay is also doing a session on Shakespeare for 10th-graders while he is here.
“Our artists sit down with the school administrators and make their program fit what the school wants,” Welle said.
McClure, 44, normally portrays Langston Hughes in his workshops and works with students to model Langston’s poetry. He said he did introduce the students to Hughes and his works during the first day he was in the classroom but later just worked with them in learning to write various forms of poetry. He taught them how to write haiku, tanka and name poems.
“Haiku poems have three lines, with 17 syllables,” he explained to the students. “A tanka poem is similar to haiku but has five lines with more syllables and uses simile, metaphor and personification.”
He said a “name poem” begins with a person’s name on the first line, and includes several sentences that describe his or her name and experiences that have been important to them.
“These kids have been really great,” McClure said. “They have really opened up to and listened to me. … They have written some great poems.”
April McGee, eighth-grade English teacher at Mountain Pine, said her students “have really enjoyed having Jay in class. It’s been very encouraging to see them interact with him and be able to write their own poems.
“I teach poetry during the year, but I have not gone into such depth with it,” McGee said. “The students just didn’t respond well to it, but I think they will now. Some of the students in this class rarely participate in anything, … but they did for him. He takes the temperature of the class and responds to it. It’s been fun to watch him teach and see the students respond to him. This has really been a confidence-builder for them.”
Welle said the Arkansas Learning Through the Arts program “offers literacy arts-focused workshops integrating language arts, social studies, art and music learning standards that are taught in specific curriculum units throughout the school year.
“For this year, we have programs booked in 18 schools in Garland, Pope, Saline, St. Francis and Phillips counties,” Welle said. “We are working with schools in Clark County and hope to bring them on board in the spring.
“Our artists presented 450 sessions the first semester and have 400 or more scheduled for the next semester,” he said. “I think we will have presented close to 1,000 sessions by the end of the school year. We have three poets working with us, plus several artists who teach dance, music, songwriting, theater, visual arts and crafts.
“Funding for the schools is available through the Arkansas Arts Council on a first-come, first-served basis,” Welle said. “This is through a matching-funds grant and helps make it affordable for schools. “Donations and sponsorships are always welcome,” he added.
For more information, contact Welle at (214) 676-0222, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Martha Smither, president, ALTTA board of directors, at (501) 922-2743 or email@example.com. Information is also available online at altta.org.