Students showcase Appalachian folk dances

Folk artist Russ Childers shares Appalachian musical culture and storytelling with students. Photo Provided

HANNIBAL — Russ Childers, a folk musician and storyteller from the Cincinnati area, brought some Appalachian tradition and culture to the elementary school students, parents and staff of the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District through an artist-in-residence program made possible through the Ohio Arts Council and private donations.

Childers and his wife, Barb, spent one week at each of the five elementary schools in the district, plus St. Sylvester Catholic elementary school, teaching traditional Appalachian square dances to the fifth and sixth grades. On Thursday, select students from all six schools — St. Sylvester, Woodsfield, River, Powhatan, Beallsville and Skyvue — were chosen to showcase what they learned at culminating event for parents, grandparents and siblings at River High School.

Dances such as the Virginia Reel, Red River Valley, Birdie in the Cage, Divide the World, and Forward up Six were some of the dances performed by the students. Childers told some “tall tales,” and River High School graduates and recording artists The Price Sisters performed and spoke about their musical education.

The Ohio Arts Council provides the grant program in order to “bring schools and community organizations together with artists to share in-depth, engaging, personal and sustained arts learning experiences.” Monroe County Commissioner Mick Schumacher, who is also involved with the Monroe Arts Council, said the whole project ended up costing more than $12,000.

“To pull something off like this, it takes money and a lot of work. But it was well worth it,” Schumacher said. “Our goal with this project was to bring all the schools together and fund a program in which all schools benefited equally. Our district is fractured, and it was good to see parents from all the schools come together as one for this culminating event.”

Schumacher applauded the work of the many individuals and groups that came together to make the event a success, including the donors who gave money or in-kind services, such as the Orchard Bed and Breakfast, which gave Childers a discounted rate when he needed to stay there while teaching the students. Schumacher also noted that the school district’s transportation director, Jason Clutter, volunteered to bus the students from the Skyvue, St. Sylvester and Woodsfield schools to River High School for the culminating event because the bus driver who was supposed to run the route was unable to do so because of illness and substitutes were not available.

“Jason Clutter went above and beyond the call of duty. There were a whole lot of moving parts that had to come together for this, and people really stepped up to help make this a success. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong but didn’t,” Schumacher said. “It was well received and well attended. And having the Price Sisters participate was so satisfying.”

Others who donated to the program were Woodsfield Savings Bank, Pioneer Larger Parish, Monroe Arts Council, St. Sylvester Catholic Women’s Club, Monroe County Historical Society, Switzerland of Ohio Ministerial Association, Switzerland of Ohio Local School District, Suzanne Pollock, Diane Burkhart and Mick and Ashley Schumacher. Principal Becky Hall of River Elementary School coordinated the event at River High School.

“This is the first time anything of this magnitude through a grant has been done, the first time all schools were represented. We wanted teachers involved but we don’t have a music teacher in all of the schools, so we worked with the gym and social studies teachers as well,” Schumacher said. “It was a great program. The kids got good exercise, good wholesome fun while learning Appalachian Culture, and they seemed to really enjoy it. You can’t put a letter grade on that. This gave everyone a chance to see how important the arts really are.”