Participating in a Mexican mask workshop and learning Latin American music and dance styles provided Clifty Creek Elementary students opportunities to increase their cultural understanding this year.

The school attempted to do so by offering arts in education programs that were aided by two grants. One was from Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, and another from the Carl Marshall Reeves and Mildred Almen Reeves Foundation, Clifty Creek art teacher Vanessa Gutierrez said.

Both grants were made possible with the help of Arts for Learning, which provides arts in education programs for Indiana schools, classrooms or community centers, said Angela Yetter, Arts for Learning scheduling and program director.

“We are a part of a national network of organizations known as Young Audiences,” Yetter said. “Our programs, led by professional teaching artists, encompass music, dance, theater, visual arts, writing and more. Each program connects a specific art form with classroom curriculum or life skills attributes.”

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Clifty Creek received these types of grants last school year as well. Last year, students learned fabric dyeing techniques to create a large-scale art piece featuring the school’s motto: “Changing lives… it’s what we do.” It can be seen in the school library.

This year, the focus was on the art, music, dance and culture of Latin America — specifically Mexico, Peru and Puerto Rico,” Clifty Creek Principal Gina Pleak said.

Projects and programs all included art, music and physical education aspects, Pleak said.

Different grades were assigned a country to study. Second-, third- and sixth-grade students learned about Mexico; fifth graders focused on Peru; and kindergarten, first- and fourth-grade students studied Puerto Rico.

The entire student population experienced the Musical Tour of Latin America program performed by the Indianapolis-based Mundo Beat Band, Gutierrez said. Students also heard Latin jazz music and learned Latin ballroom dancing, including the salsa, merengue, cumbia and cha-cha music and dance styles.

Sixth graders took part in Mexican clay mask workshops with clay artist Jude Odell, and created Aztec posters with a Mexican mural artist, Gutierrez said.

To end the projects for the year, the school held a performance and art showcase for all students last Wednesday in the gymnasium. The celebration featured student-led song, dance and art inspired by the three Latin American countries they learned about during the school year.

“It is the hope that this project will lay the groundwork for increased cultural understanding in our school and community, as well as another opportunity for us to celebrate our diversity,” Gutierrez said.

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.