ROCKINGHAM – What do a magician, a speed painter, a beach band and a native American story teller have in common?
Answer: They all graced the stage of Kate Finley Auditorium this week as Rockingham Middle School held its annual Fine Arts Festival.
The Fine Arts festival is a longstanding tradition at Rockingham Middle School, that dates back to the days when Dr. John Langley was the principal of the then Rockingham Junior High. As explained by current principal, Theresa Gardner, Langley created the festival to help foster the growth of the whole child.
“It was started as a way to bring the community and school together, allowing students to experience the arts in a new way,” Gardner shared.
During Dr. Langley’s administration, the Fine Arts festival spanned two entire weeks, with one in each the fall and spring seasons. One week of the beloved program was centered upon the local arts, such as storytelling, shagging, pottery, wood carving and more. Students and staff were provided a unique opportunity to learn about these art forms, and even try their hand at creating them themselves through hands on breakout sessions.
The other week of this program was more in line with that Rockingham Middle School students experience today. Centered around the visual and performing arts, this portion of the Fine Arts program occupied the auditorium and boasted performances ranging from singers to dancers, and orchestras to steel drums.
Although the event has since been scaled down in size, now lasting just two days, it has not lost its appeal to students and staff alike.
This year’s Fine Arts festival kicked off on Monday with a performance by a native American storyteller who used a story of four men, a mountain, and a poisonous snake to teach students a lesson about listening to their elders and staying away from decisions and paths that are known to lead to negative outcomes.
Monday’s line up also welcomed the Pantasia Steel Band to the stage, who captivated students with the sounds of steel drums and calypso. Playing songs ranging from “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to “Under the Sea,” the three-person band captured the attention and interests of the students, and used their performance as a platform to educate students on the history and culture of their craft.
The second day of the festival boasted even more acts than the first, and included numerous dance numbers and musical performances by students, staff, and community members alike.
One of the most original performances of the day was that of Stephanie Burke, a speed painter and self-proclaimed “dabbler of all things creative.” Burke infused stories of her personal experiences and failures with the creation of her artwork to teach students a valuable lesson on perseverance, and turning failures into successes.
To showcase this lesson, Burke pulled inspiration from Abraham Lincoln, educating students on the dire state of affairs the nation was in during his presidency. She then painted a five-foot portrait of the icon in less than six minutes.
Musing of excitement could be heard throughout the auditorium as the painted.
“Her artistic ability was incredible,” remarked seventh grade math teacher Jordyn Pillar. “The students watched in awe the entire time she was painting.”
But that wasn’t all. Burke continued her presentation, and drew parallels between what struggles President Lincoln faced during the 1800’s to challenges that our nation is currently facing. The artist discussed the need for unity and acceptance, and how we should all strive to get to know those around us instead of creating a divider between us.
As seventh grade social studies teacher Brendan Snell stated, “Stephanie Burke has amazing talent and she provided a positive message that seemed to resonate with our students.”
Burke ended her performance by remarkably painting the Statue of Liberty upside down, across two, five-foot canvases.
To conclude the week’s festivities, Kate Finley Auditorium was transformed into a party as beach band Too Much Sylvia took to the stage and rocked the house. Playing everything from Bruno Mars, to the Electric Slide, and all of the smoothies and classic rock songs in between, Too Much Sylvia definitely got everyone on their feet and dancing.
Traditionally, this festival is an opportunity reserved exclusively for Rockingham Middle School students. However, this year, principal Theresa Gardner extended an invitation to Cordova and Ellerbe middle schools.
“Dana Loving, eighth grade ELA and social studies teacher, came up with the idea and mentioned it to Denise Sullivan, one of our EC teachers,” explained Gardner. “Denise mentioned it to me and I got right on it, calling and emailing my colleagues at the two schools to see if they would be interested in attending.
“As long as I am principal, I would like to see this invitation stay as a standing invitation to our friends across the district,” Gardner stated. “I think it is a great way to open our doors to our neighboring schools, colleagues and friends.”