It’s 3:15 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon: School announcements blare over the sound system and a crowd of students floods the halls at Bruns Academy.
Most students are hurrying home, but 16 have chosen to stay.
These students enthusiastically smile, gyrate and belt out the lyrics to hit songs as they make their way into a makeshift band room for the Integra Creative Arts Program.
Bruns Academy social worker Barry Sherman created I-CAP four years ago as a summer camp for Nations Ford Elementary; this is the second year he’s taught I-CAP to students in grades six through eight at Bruns Academy.
Sherman said the idea for the program came from an adult version he taught for 20 years with Chris Saade at The Institute for Life-Leadership and Coaching, an organization that provides personal development classes in Charlotte.
I-CAP uses creative expression to teach valuable life lessons such as authenticity, respect, trusting one’s self, valuing and praising uniqueness in others, working together for peace and justice and celebrating one’s efforts.
Students audition to get into the program, which meets every Tuesday.
Sixth-grader Ashaurrea Smith is enthusiastic about working with students who share her passion for the creative arts.
“Integra means having integrity: be proud of who you are,” she said. “I joined to be with people who are like me – excited about coming together and sharing our different talents.”
“This is a great outlet for the kids to show off their talent and learn valuable life lessons,” said Bruns Academy music teacher and co-facilitator Kristin Madison.
UNC Charlotte social-work graduate Jose Montoya, who is interning with Sherman, said, “It’s really interesting interacting with young minds and seeing them get it.”
Sherman said the life lessons are just as valuable as academics. “These ideals combined with the creative arts teaches them to think critically and work collaboratively,” Sherman said. “It also gives them the freedom to claim who they are in the world and use that newfound passion to make a positive contribution.”
On this Tuesday, Sherman, a social worker for 25 years, asks the students peering from behind a circle of brightly-colored masks, “What is authenticity?”
Eighth-grader Quadarius Hall replies, “It’s when you know who you are and no one else can tell you who you are going to be.”
Kendra James, also an eighth-grader, said, “If you can’t be yourself now, how can you follow your own path in the future?”
After a series of poems, worksheets, YouTube video presentations and peer discussions, the students broke into small groups for writers, actors, singers and dancers.
They use creative interpretation to show how hiding behind their fancy-feathered masks symbolizes the way people metaphorically mask their true selves, and how once people live and act authentically, they are able to share their talents with the world.
The weekly lessons will be incorporated into a six-act play to be performed for the school in spring. Sherman said the students will collaboratively choreograph and script the performance as a journey of self-discovery.
“I would like the Integra students to leave the program with a greater ability to stand strong and proud in the truth of their hearts,” Sherman said. “I also hope they are awakened to their responsibility as leaders in the world, leaders who step up, in small ways and big ways, to advocate and work for greater peace and justice in our beautiful and struggling world.”