School of the Arts … and chess

Published 12:14 am Thursday, September 17, 2009

SELMA — A program to teach Black Belt students how to play music, to learn geography and to discover chess has been created in Selma. Local organizers hope other residents will see its value.

The Selma School of Arts & Continuing Education — the home of the Selma Youth Orchestra — has come alive on J.L. Chestnut Drive, and program director Dr. Ellen Carter is teaching and coordinating the seven-day-a-week school.

The beginnings of the school started before the first Selma Youth Orchestra concert in August, Carter said.

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“As I was doing violin lessons, I discovered that a lot of bright children had not received the educational challenges they deserved,” said Carter, who moved to Selma two years ago. “Let me emphasize that I am not blaming the public schools. Right now, teachers have to deal with students who have a wide variety of needs.”

Carter, who received her doctorate in ethnomusicology at Trinity University, teaches strings, piano and other instruments along with geography. Her background in music, however, did not preclude her reason for teaching.

“String students tend to be very, very bright,” she said. “Many of them would benefit from being in a magnet program.”

Dr. Walid Freij is the school’s board president. He said he sees the school as a valuable addition to current school curriculum.

“This school is trying to round out the children’s lives in music, chess and geography,” Freij said. “You have an intersection with the different classes. If you learn to play chess, you will be better in math. If you learn geography, you will be better in math.”

Freij said the studies also provide life lessons for the school’s students.

“You have to have a lot of discipline. You have to apply yourself to play,” he said. “There is also a lot of memorization in music and geography.”

In addition to lessons each day, special classes or programs are scheduled for beginners practices (5:30-6:30 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays), geography (6:30-7:30 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays), Cahaba Chamber Ensemble, (Monday) Selma Youth and Community Orchestra (6 p.m. Monday) and homework help sessions (Thursday and Friday).

The Selma School of Arts & Classical Education works with the Selma City Schools to prepare students for the National Geographic Bee, which is held annually. Dr. Verdell Dawson and Jocelyn Reddick, assistant superintendents for curriculum in Selma, use the School of Arts’ resources and personnel to assist in the geography training.

“The Selma schools have been a real asset for what we are trying to do,” said Carter, who also credited the Selma Kiwanis Club with helping establish the school. “And we have really been grateful for their assistance.”

Mactrica Shannon of Selma brought her 13-year-old daughter Tanikea to the school Wednesday. The youngster was taking violin lessons and meeting other children.

“I’m putting her out there because she’s just not used to other kids her age,” Shannon said. “This will give her an opportunity to meet others.”

Tanikea also enjoys other hobbies.

“She also likes to draw and I think the program will give her a chance to study another art,” Shannon said.

Freij said the string and geography students will carry a better educational background.

“I think they will affect the other students when they go back to the schools,” he said. “The other students will see how the student has improved and want to know how they did it.

“Knowledge is contagious,” he said.

Carter said the school deals with some of Selma’s best students.

“Our school does not address any remedial issues, only advancement and enrichment,” she said.

The school also offers various viewpoints from the students and parents.

“With more kids from different schools, suddenly they have different friends,” Freij said. “I think it will improve relationships in Selma.”