Native American Arts Showcase

Susan Mullins, a Mohawk Native American originally from Canada now living in Berea, leads Model Laboratory fourth-graders in a traditional song Thursday evening during a Native American Arts Showcase in the school auditorium.

For awhile, the place the children spent their days was not a classroom; it was a Native American camp. The adults in the room were not teachers; they were Cherokee and Mohawk tribe leaders. And, for awhile, learning did not come from books, but from storytelling, dancing, singing and making things such as dream catchers, gourd rattles and masks.

With the help of local artists Susan Mullins and Darla Jackson, Model Laboratory students spent two weeks this month engrossed in Native American culture.

Mullins and Jackson were able to devote their time teaching at Model because of a grant through the Kentucky Arts Council. The school’s visual arts teacher, Denise Discepoli, applied for the TIP (Teacher Initiated Program) grant last year, and is happy she did, she said.

“We would have the artists back in a heartbeat,” she said. “My students are so excited about learning after their time here.”

Students utilized all arts education areas in this experience, including drama, dance, writing and singing, the teacher said.

Third-graders learned a Cherokee Stomp dance and Crossover Step, while fourth-graders sang authentic Native American tunes, and fifth-graders became versed in the Snake Dance. In addition to making gourd rattles, masks and dream catchers, students also created necklaces and talking sticks.

While the program was mainly for students in grades K-5, Discepoli found a way for some middle-schoolers to participate by having them teach the younger children.

“They were so giving,” Discepoli said. “They completely enjoyed it.”

After two weeks of being immersed in Native American teachings, the students shared much of what they had learned at an open house for parents Thursday night.

“It turned out great,” Discepoli said. “The students really couldn’t wait to get on the stage and show their parents the songs and dances they had learned.”

For some of the dances, students formed a circle, holding hands.

“The students were so excited,” Discepoli said. “Even the fifth-graders. I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh, they normally would never even touch each other.’”

Mullins and Jackson donated their time to help out at the open house, the arts teacher said.

“They were both so great and intuitive,” she said. “I would definitely recommend other area teachers apply to have them come to their classes.”

Information about the grant can be found at

To view artwork created by the students, visit

Kelly McKinney can be reached at or 624-6694.

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