AMERICUS — During this holiday season, the talents of Sumter County students can be heard throughout the area. From the four- and five-year-olds at the Sumter County Early Learning Center to the juniors and seniors of the Americus Sumter High Concert band, the arts are alive and well in the public school system and on display for all to hear, thanks in large part, to the support of the principals at each of the schools. “You are seeing tonight the other part of your child’s education: music and the arts,” said Sumter County Intermediate School Principal Sharon Marcus, as she addressed a crowd of several hundred people packed into the school’s auditorium to see the school’s Christmas concert, which featured the school’s band and choir. Likewise, hundreds packed into auditoriums at Sumter County Elementary School and Sumter County Middle School to see their musicians perform songs of the season. At the elementary school, fourth-grade choral director, Andrea Nichols Halstead, presented a wonderful performance of “Bring on the Snow,” which featured the chorus singing songs of the holidays, but also featured the students in a variety of skits surrounding those songs. The Sumter County Elementary School Spirit Team got it all started with a cheer and Christmas dance. The middle school featured its outstanding band and choir performing Christmas songs together in the same auditorium. “Mrs. Halstead and her team of volunteers did an excellent job with the casting, music, decorations, and costumes for the Sumter County Elementary School Holiday Showcase,” said Renee’ Mays, Ed.D., school principal. “This is a prime example of the talent that we have within our walls. My goal as principal is to expose our students to all areas of the fine arts because studies show that music, art, and drama positively impact the learning of all students. It also improves self-esteem and builds confidence.” Stacy Favors, principal at Sumter Middle School, added, “We strive to support the arts in the school because our students are so talented. We want to foster their talent and help propel them to the next level.” In a number of school districts throughout the state, the arts have gone the way of budget cuts. But in Sumter County, strong support by the administration and principals at the school have allowed students to realize their talents, and in doing so, add to their educational experience. “The Fine Arts promote well-rounded students by exposing them to the complexities of reading and performing music,” said Americus-Sumter High School Principal Kimothy Hadley, whose school boasts a number of bands and choirs, many of which were featured at a Christmas concert at Central Baptist Church. The concert was as engaging as it was far-reaching, featuring traditional Christmas songs sung in a unique classical style, and even featuring the world premier of a new piece created by a group of students, “Horizons,” performed and composed by Jada Boyd, Kalman DeMott, Thomas Edge, Joseph Ndaayezwi, Noel Perez, and Reggia Walters. “I feel very strongly that the arts are a vital part of a well-rounded education and I am thankful that the Sumter County School system has made a commitment to providing a quality musical education for students at all grade levels,” said Hugh Peacock, choir director at Sumter Intermediate School. “The students who come to my classroom already have a good foundation thanks to the efforts of the talented teachers who work in the younger grades, and I do my best to build on that foundation to prepare the students to be successful in the middle school and high school programs.” “There are many talented students in my chorus classes at the new Sumter County Intermediate School, and I hope to provide them with rich musical experiences while helping them develop the skills necessary for lifelong musicianship,” continued Peacock. “Daily sight-reading practice is a very important part of the curriculum. We study and perform music in a variety of styles and languages. Our repertoire this year will include songs in Swahili, Spanish and Latin. Our performance plans include Winter and Spring Concerts, Parent Night performances and an appearance at Arts in the Park. In a couple of months we will be sending some students to Athens for the Sixth Grade Statewide Honor Chorus and later in the year we will perform for judges at the GMEA Large Group Performance Evaluation.” And it all begins in the Early Learning Center, where music teacher Timothy Beck has his Pre-K and kindergarten students out in the community learning what it means to perform as well as the important lessons that can be learned through the study of music. “Some of our kindergarten classes went to Magnolia Manor to present a concert and sing along for the residents,” said Beck. “In our classroom we are learning about Christmas traditions fromother countries, and also learning the names and sounds of classroom instruments. Next semester we are going to begin with orchestral instruments and a round of new songs. We are also going to begin working on a repertoire of songs relating to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement.” Principal Marcus emphasized the importance of such programs at all grade levels. “While there have been significant cuts to art programs in schools, the research indicates that these programs have a positive impact on student achievement,” she said. “Schools must find creative ways to invest in these programs. The art programs at Sumter County Intermediate School (art, music, band, Odyssey of the Mind) add value to student learning and promote a positive school culture.”
The Sumter County MIddle School Choir performed during the holidays.
The Sumter County Intermediary School Band and Chorus performed under the direction of Hugh Peacock.
The Sumter County Elementary School Choir performed in costume for the Christmas program.