SNOW CAMP — If someone says “Ago!” you say “Ame!”
In some West African languages, “Ago” (pronounced AH-GO) means “May I have your attention?” and “Ame” (pronounced AH-MAY) means “I am listening.”
On Friday, Jan. 18, Greg Ince of Newincentive Cultural Arts of Burlington — dressed in traditional West African clothing — shouted “Ago!” to the students of Sylvan Elementary School and received a loud echo of “Ame!” before sitting down to lead fifth-graders in a performance using djembes: African drums.
As they played, another group of students performed a Guinea dance under the leadership of Ince’s wife, Nicole Shalia Haith.
The couple spent the week of Jan. 14 teaching Sylvan K-5 students West African words, traditions, music and dance as part of an artist in residence program organized by Ginger Strickland, the school’s dance and drama instructor.
It’s the second time the school has hosted Newincentive.
“The artist in residence process is to bring the experience to them rather than doing a field trip, to immerse them in the culture and in an art form that they’re not normally accustomed to experiencing and seeing and being a part of,” Principal Mark Gould said. “We had them last year, and we decided to bring them back because it’s going over really, really well. It’s not just informational. It’s not just educational. The kids get really excited for the new experience. … They’ve brought a much-needed energy for this time of year.”
Sylvan is in its second year as an A+ Arts school, a specialized program aimed at boosting attendance and engagement by adding art to every class, including core subjects like math and social studies.
The connection between art and academics is not always obvious, but Strickland said she’s seen students have “Ah-ha!” moments during the artist in residence process, finally grasping concepts they struggled with in their core subjects.
“There’s a little fella in first grade that really can’t count very well, but he can do the rhythms and count the rhythms, and to see that connection has been really cool,” she said.
Overall, Gould said, the A+ Arts program has made Sylvan more vibrant, and opportunities like these keep the excitement level up — even when it’s cold and dreary outside.
“When we visited another school that had A+ Arts, it was like, ‘This is what elementary school should feel like,’” he said.
Reporter Jessica Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 336-506-3046. Follow her on Twitter at @jessicawtn.