Despite what most budget-cutters want to hear, art can be an important part of a student's development. Just ask Megen Mims at Heal with HeARTS. Her local nonprofit has taught visual arts, music, and dance in and out of schools for four years. "Music and art and dance are another way for children to express themselves," says Mims. "It helps them with problem solving and some of their other academic areas. It connects them to being inspired to learn through other ways than memorizing textbooks."
One of their most popular programs, the Kids' Drum Circle, extends their campaign to one of Charleston's most accessible venues: the Pour House. Occurring on the second Saturday of every month, this program features a guest drummer leading kids and their parents in a few different drum beats and styles. February's lead drummer was Chilenia Jameson from the Deninafey Dance Company. The drummers for March will be James Island Charter High School teachers and professional drummers Wes Powers and Neville Curtis.
Kids of all ages are encouraged to attend — parents occasionally will even bring infants. "It's a big community thing," Mims says. "It brings kids and families together."
The Kids' Drum Circle was originally a program that Mims saw when she taught at a school in Colorado. Students would build and paint their own drums, and after practicing a few drum beats, they would perform at a school assembly. According to Mims, by the end of the semester, the kids who were too shy to participate in the beginning started leading the drum circles themselves.
Mims believes the drum circle has the same impact on local students. For example, one kid is emotionally distant, has a hard time learning, and acts out because of it. After working with him for three months, Mims says that she had never seen him as happy as when they let him participate in a recent drum circle. "It was really the first time we've seen him smile in forever," she says.
Since its creation, Heal with HeARTS has focused its efforts on underprivileged schools, kids with learning disabilities, and children from difficult backgrounds. They often teach at Charleston Development Academy, Sander-Clyde Creative Arts School, and Murray Lasaine Elementary. "The arts are a very good way to lure the kids to pay attention and follow directions," says Mims. "Even with the drumming, the call and response, they have to listen and then participate."
Mims and co-founder Addy Gantt use the arts to prompt students to learn parts of the typical curriculum like science, reading, and writing. "It's important for us to connect the arts to the other areas that they might not really be inspired to study," says Mims.
Frequent collaborator Ward Buckheister of Sol Driven Train occasionally leads a songwriting class through Heal with HeARTS, where he uses the opportunity to teach the students rhymes and other fun language tools.
Despite the looming threat of budget cuts, the local nonprofit's future has exciting prospects, like a harmonica class and a jazz program. And, thanks to increased attendance, Mims hopes to make the Kids' Drum Circle a twice-a-month offering.
One of the more noteworthy things in the works is a collaboration with the local schools to create an A.P. art program for students who would not typically be able to afford it. This economic option will assist high-schoolers in building a portfolio and applying to colleges.
Mims says, "The arts taps into the whole imagination and creativity and ideas and critical thinking and problem solving."
As Mims puts it, the arts are an integral way for people to learn because of their accessibility. Anyone can use a pen and paper to sketch or a pencil to tap out a rhythm, and it's something that continues after the school bell rings. "It's something they can take with them wherever they are."