Arts First Aid in Knott County

As the spring school term comes to a close, we are celebrating the completion of several exciting arts education projects.  Throughout the month of April, the Arts First Aid project funded by the Kentucky Arts Council brought four teaching artists to Knott County Central High School. All of these expert teaching artists reside in Kentucky and are part of the Kentucky Arts Council teaching artist directory. The Arts First Aid project also included a consultancy with arts education expert Judy Sizemore “to enhance the integration of arts content into the school curriculum.” This has certainly been a successful collaboration. Cathy Conley, English and Arts and Humanities instructor at Knott County Central High School, said that this project inspired the most community involvement she had seen in the high school’s arts programs.

Cheryl Pan teaching a traditional Chinese fan dance.

Dance instructor Cheryl Pan worked with Cathy Conley’s Arts and Humanities classes and put students in motion.  Cheryl shared with the classes the Chinese folk dances that she learned in her training in Beijing, including the fan dance as seen in the photo below.  Her lessons gave students a wide experience of Chinese culture, connecting movement with language, customs, and colorful traditional dress. 

Joan Brannon leading students in West African drum rhythms on the djembe.

Percussionist Joan Brannon taught African drumming in Stacy Coker’s Band and Chorus classes. Each student played the djembe and learned about the role of drumming and songs in West African communities.  The word djembe comes from the Mali saying “Anke djé, anke bé,” which translates to “everyone gather together in peace.” The students loved “Miss Joan.” As she taught students to play different parts that came together as a layered whole, there was synergy in the music.

Octavia Sexton teaching a performance exercise, “The Great Three Headed Storyteller.”

Storyteller Octavia Sexton led an engaging series of performance workshops with Bria Stacy’s Drama and Speech classes. In addition to sharing stories from her Appalachian family tradition and stories that she had composed, Octavia led exercises with students that empowered them to tell their own stories. In the photo below, Octavia is leading an exercise called “The Great Three-Headed Storyteller” in which three students are given the first word of a story, then they must build the story, with each person saying only one word at a time.

Bob Montgomery helps a student make a functional metal hook.

Blacksmith Bob Montgomery worked with Ashlyn Swihart’s Art classes and taught each student to make a functional metal hook.  Bob’s lessons were interdisciplinary, highlighting the connections between metalworking and science, language arts, mathematics, history, and art. Students worked with Bob at the forge, heating the metal, shaping and twisting each hook on the anvil. Bob also brought in his whimsical iron sculptures that demonstrated the variety of techniques a blacksmith can use.

Teachers, students, and administrators all expressed their appreciation for this special month of programming provided by the Kentucky Arts Council. All four teaching artists were quite generous with students and teachers, truly engaging everyone with a memorable experience.


The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, supports this arts education experience with state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.