Indianapolis Public Schools joins our nation in commemorating Black History Month; a variety of meaningful and engaging learning experiences are taking place in classrooms across the district. This week, Second and Third grade students of Nicholson Performing Arts Academy at School 70, families and staff enjoyed a fun evening celebration showcasing music and artwork.
Through music, theatre and visual arts, second graders performed with enthusiasm and heart as their families, teachers and supporters watched from the school gymnasium’s sidelines.
The program began with music. In addition to the sweet sounds of the strings and keyboards, second graders raised their voices with a song called “Down in the Valley.” Third graders sang the Liberian Welcome Song, “Funga Alafia” which says, “With my mind, I welcome you. With my words, I welcome you. With my heart, I welcome you. Nothing to hide, no worries.”
Both grades united to sing the Ballad of John Henry, a song about an African American folk hero. According to legend, the railroad worker was so powerful that he was pitted against a steam-powered hammer in a race that he ultimately won.
After the musical introduction, theatre students took center stage. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was the first of many monologues highlighting the contributions of several important black heroes. The audience was also introduced to the tireless work of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks.
“They need to know that history. For them to be able to portray it on stage, I think that adds an extra ‘umph’ to the education that they’re getting,” said Stephanie Butler, theatre teacher.
Students also paid tribute through motion. They sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also commonly known as the Black National Anthem, while dancing and performing sign language.
Nicholson teachers want students to find inspiration from the contributions of all our great artists and understand that art belongs to everyone.
“I want them to understand – and I’ve talked to them about this before – when I was younger, you didn’t see a lot of African American dancers or kids in dance class with me,” said Shamura Caruthers, dance teacher.  “And I never had the chance to have so many different art forms in one place and learn with no expense. All of these art forms are very expensive privately. I just want them to appreciate how the world is today.”
Between each act of the program, the audience was treated to vignettes – short biographical speeches to represent key players in the Harlem Renaissance including Duke Ellington and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The performances fill teachers with pride and help students grow academically while nurturing their talent.
“They’re not as nervous as they used to be. They’re getting used to standing up and talking in front of everyone, and they’re good,” said Vicki Dine, physical education teacher who also supports theatre efforts. “Some of them memorize it, and some of them don’t. That’s okay; memorizing wasn’t required.”
Just outside of the gymnasium, visitors were greeted by colorful artwork painted by students. The meaningful paintings featured prominent black artists including “Bojangles,” Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday.

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Join us in applauding the students, teachers and staff of Nicholson Performing Arts Academy at School 70 on a job well done!