'All You Need is Love'

REACH showcases students' talents

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School isn't quite out for Sumter School District's artistically gifted and talented students. Last Tuesday, about 185 of them were at Crestwood High School, about halfway through the district's three-week REACH Summer Arts program that will culminate in a public performance beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Heather Clemons, who teaches academically gifted and talented students at Millwood Elementary School, is the REACH program supervisor. She explained that REACH Summer Arts, funded through state and district gifted and talented funds, combines the summer arts intensives of the former Sumter School Districts 17 and 2. REACH is an acronym for Reflecting Excellence And Creative Heights. The program is supported through state and district gifted and talented funds, Clemons said.

The summer arts program has three components, she said - music, visual art and theater. Students are nominated by their teachers, parents, themselves or their peers.

"Close to 700 were referred," Clemons said, "and 203 were invited. We've averaged around 185 a day since we started this summer." Students from rising fourth-graders to rising 12th-graders are eligible to apply, she said, and each pays $30, which covers materials, snacks, transportation and lunch.

Deborah Horton, Linda Beck and Ashlee Poole, music teachers at Crestwood High, Furman Middle and Sumter High schools, respectively, are working together to teach the students in the music track. Horton and Beck have both been working in the summer program for about 20 years, they said. They both taught Poole, in fact.

During REACH, however, they'll be working with the youngest students, from 4th-graders to high school seniors. Their group is large, but as Horton pointed out, "They're gifted and talented, and the older kids mentor the younger ones."

Beck pointed out, "With gifted and talented kids, you've got to catch 'em young and hold them up."

Indeed, after only five days with their instructors, the young students seemed to have nearly mastered their roles in "A Beatles Revue."

For their performance on Wednesday, the students will be accompanied by a band led by drummer David Shoemaker.

Five different art teachers - three from Sumter School District - are working with different age groups on learning and improving their skills.

Laura Cardello, primarily a potter who works in other media as well, was instructing her 3rd- and 4th-grade students in drawing and painting last week. She is a longtime teacher in the Sumter County Gallery of Art's Summer Art Camp.

"They are making art inspired by Beatles music," Cardello said, as "Got to Get You into My Life" played in the background.

Ryan Kennedy's rising fifth- and sixth-graders were completing paintings similar to those of Andy Warhol and others from the pop art period of the 1960s, when the Beatles were at the height of their popularity. Kennedy, who teaches at Furman Middle School, also planned to instruct them in making linoleum block stamps to make prints.

Crystal Chambers, a former Sumter teacher now in Aiken, is teaching the high school students, while Ashley Womack, teacher at Hillcrest Middle, teaches 4th- and 5th-graders, and Nicole Bowman, Crestwood art teacher, has the 7th- and 8th-graders.

Theater students studying with Sumter High's Kelly Melton and Matt Wilt, and Lexi Melton are working on all the individual skills actors need as well as those essential for ensemble work. Last Tuesday, they were reading through the short play they'll present at Wednesday's showcase. Written by Lexi Melton, it's a comedy titled "Liberty Dallas."

Clemons said the showcase, titled "All You Need is Love" after the Beatles song, will begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the large lobby of Crestwood High School's Fine Arts Facility with an art exhibition of works completed during REACH Summer Arts.

"Guests will be able to stroll around the lobby to view the art," she said, "while theater students do short skits and monologues, juggle, and the music students will sing."

Clemons compared the opening to the first day of Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston, when various performers and artists fill Marion Square.

At 6 p.m., the REACH music performance, "A Beatles Revue," will be presented in the auditorium, and at 7 p.m., the REACH theater production, "Liberty Dallas," will begin.

There is no charge for admission, and the public is invited to attend. Crestwood High School is located at 2000 Oswego Highway (U.S. 401), Sumter.