The Joy of Learning
Rita Papazian
Norwalk-Citizen News
, July 14, 2006

A conversation with Kimberly Eaton is typical of why journalism continues to fascinate me. You meet someone at a meeting. You engage in conversation, one thing leads to another and you learn something that not only is new to you but also enriching.

Eaton, a full-time student, singer and former paraprofessional in the Norwalk Public Schools, is one of the many artists of this city's Arts Task Force working in after-school programs. This summer she will be at Jefferson School working with the ACHIEVE Summer Camp. ACHIEVE stands for "All Children Have the Intelligence, Enthusiasm and Values to Excel."

Eaton engages children in a program she calls Recess Around the World. This program focuses on music and movement with children. She believes that children who engage in music and movement will become more fluent with the rhythm of language, and this, she says, translates to fluency in reading. And when they can read, they experience the joy that comes in accomplishing the skill.

When children become fluent in reading, they acquire knowledge, and this leads to an understanding of different cultures, which leads to better communication among people of different cultures. In other words, they become more receptive to playing with other children on the playground. They accept one another's differences and they begin to laugh and exhibit joy.

It is at the playgrounds that Eaton first noticed children who did not skip rope. There were children who did not know how to skip at all. There were children who did not display a sense of joy. "All over the city I was not hearing the singing of nursery rhymes," she said.

Through her research in presenting a program that would bring children of diversity together in the after-school environment, Eaton came across a book titled "Step It Down" by Bessie Jones, which is filled with children's games, songs and stories from the African American heritage. Jones (1902-84) was a founding member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers. She compiled an anthology of the early folksongs that engage children in music and movement.

Jones learned songs from her grandfather Jet Samson (who died in 1941 at age 105) and others from the Georgia Sea Islands. Many of the songs dated back to slavery days; Jet Samson himself had been a slave. He was brought to the United States along with five other members of his family and worked on plantations in Virginia and Georgia.

Jones' songs speak of pride, belief, sorrow, determination, hope and humor. She was said to have carried within her the culture and survival of her race. She has been described as a warm and energetic performer who was very aware of the im-portance of the music she had embraced.

Eaton, who grew up in a household of music, also knows its importance. Her mother, Cassandra, is an artist, keyboardist, singer, piano teacher and musician at Grace Baptist Church. Eaton drew from Jones' rich heritage of songs and stories to form the basis of her program, Recess Around the World. She took children who had no experience in playing games to where they could relate to one another in a new world of rhythms and engagement to break down the social barriers and to build up the social skills. They formed circles together and held hands. They formed facing lines, gaining practice in looking into each other's eyes.

"We live in a hybrid where eye contact is disrespect or if we don't make contact then it's disrespectful," said Eaton, whose goal in working in Norwalk is to expand the children's view of the world and their communication skills. "The development of their interpersonal skills is so important, as well as their critical thinking."

In discussing her research into the folksongs, Eaton said that while many originated in Africa they found their way to Europe, where the lyrics and rhythms changed as they were handed down through the generations and then found their way to this country, reflecting an African American hybrid of song and rhythm. "All of this makes the process of learning fun," said Eaton, who wants to change the way recess is viewed."

Eaton, who is studying to be a certified teacher, has noticed that children want to relate to one another; they just haven't had much practice doing it through playing games with rhythms and songs in the safe environment of the school playground. We can certainly wrap our arms around that concept and the program Recess Around the World. Good work, Kimberly.

Copyright 2006 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.