Black History Month
Arnall students give $1K to African choir
by Celia Shortt
Longtime educator Sylvia Hooker told Arnall Middle School students to hold onto their individuality at the school’s annual Diversity Day program.
A performance by the Ugandan Thunder children’s choir was also part of the program Friday. At the conclusion of the program, Arnall teacher Pamela Ridge presented the African choir with $1,104.50 to purchase bicycles.
Each of the African children was also given an Arnall bookbag filled with school supplies. The project to provide funds for the bicycles was spearheaded by the school’s Future Educators Association.
Approximately 800 students — plus parents and guests — gathered in the gymnasium for the program on Friday morning. Eighth-grader Robyn Clarke said the annual gathering is a time to celebrate “our different cultures, our different talents and our different gifts.”
Hooker was a Coweta County administrator several years ago. She later worked for the Georgia Professional Standards Commission and the Georgia Department of Education before assuming her current position in Macon.
Hooker began her talk with a cheerleading-type call-and-response with the students — having them shout “greatness” in response to her saying “Arnall” or “diversity.”
She told the students they are “the best of education” and “the most diverse” segment of the school population. “You are the in-between. You are in the middle,” she said.
“As I look at you in this room, you are the ones with the most inventive minds. When I think about where our education has to go, it has to go somewhere because of you,” she said.
Hooker said schools must be remade to respond to what middle school students bring — “all the thoughts in your head and what you want to achieve.” She said students come to school with “so many thoughts and so many hopes and so many dreams,” and she said students should be just as excited on the last day of each school year as when they arrive opening day.
She quoted Clint Eastwood’s character in “Heartbreak Ridge”: “You adapt. You overcome. You improvise.”
“Young people, you bring something to the table,” Hooker said. “You come to the table with so many skills that we as adults now have to learn.” Looking back at her own middle school years, Hooker said that time taught her how to love everybody, the true meaning of joy and laughter and how to adapt to an ever-changing world.
She urged Arnall’s students not to dwell on negative thoughts and themes. “You can adapt and change all the negativity by seeing just who you are,” Hooker said.
Hooker urged students to be true to who they are and “who your parents brought you up to be — and that is great representatives of your households.”
There were several presentations by Arnall students during the assembly. After Hooker’s remarks, Ugandan Thunder presented several songs — some African melodies but also “I Saw the Light,” “Amazing Grace” and “America the Beautiful.” The gym exploded with applause when the Ugandan youngsters leaped into near acrobatic dance during their mini-concert.
“I feel like I’ve been to a pep rally and church and everything — all rolled into one,” Ridge said. She said Arnall students “literally fell in love” with the Uganda choir members when they visited last year.
Ridge presented a certificate and a check to Ted Moody, director of Ugandan Thunder, and Moses Kaweesa, a Harvard educated Ugandan who works with the children.
“I don’t have the words to express our gratitude,” Kaweesa told Ridge. He said the children at the school in Uganda have no bicycles, but the funds from the school will fund the purchase of 26. “I am so, so happy — as the children are. We are going to have bicycles, and the children are going to ride bicycles all next year because of you,” Kaweesa said.
The Diversity Program is planned by the school’s Diversity Committee. Jill Alford, coordinator of the team, presented gifts to Moody and Hooker.