Carrboro Commons

Carrboro fiesta combines music, cultural awareness

By Alex Linder

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Carrboro was host to the sounds of shaking beads, strumming guitars and Spanish sing-along. These are the sounds of the fiesta, and they are becoming more and more common.

“I definitely think that traditional Mexican music has a role to play in the future,” said Juan Díes, 48, producer and member of the Sones de México Ensemble, a Chicago-based traditional Mexican musical group that visited Carrboro. “It’s going to have a larger and larger role considering how the Mexican and Latino populations have been growing.”

The Sones de México Ensemble plays Mexican music of different styles including songs more than 300 years old based on Aztec myths. (Staff photo by Alex Linder)

Sones de México specializes in various styles of son, Mexican folk music, and spent April 7th-9th working with local schoolchildren in Orange, Durham and Chatham counties. They performed their show, titled Fiesta Mexicana, at the Carrboro ArtsCenter.

Thanks to a downtown scattered with advertisements written in both Spanish and English alongside taco trucks, Hispanics have become a larger and more visible part of the Carrboro community. This is reflected in the numbers.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 2,706 people of Hispanic or Latino origin living in Carrboro. This makes up 13.8 percent of the population, the highest percentage in Orange County.

According to the Town of Carrboro website, this marks a significant increase from only a few decades ago. In 2000, the Hispanic or Latino population was 2,062. In 1990, it was only 199. That is a 1,260 percent increase over 20 years.

Díes said that the rapid growth of Hispanic populations, like in Carrboro, has created some problems. He said that many Latino children grow up ignorant of their cultural history.

“Some kids of Mexican ancestry aren’t taught about where they came from,” he said. “I think that’s where Fiesta Mexicana fills a huge gap, in teaching them about their culture and their traditions.”

The performance by Sones de México combined traditional Mexican music with dance and history creating the jubilant atmosphere of a fiesta. Songs varied from those inspired by Aztec myths to the rock and roll song “La Bamba,” as well as its inspiration. Songs were bookended by historical and cultural lessons about traditional instruments, words and gods.

The performers encouraged the audience to participate, even getting kids onstage to learn Mexican dances.

“I was really amazed by how educational it was,” said Gabrielle Ruth, 37, of Carrboro, who brought her two children to see the group. “My kids were very into it, one even won’t stop repeating the words that he learned.”

With the help of band member Lorena Iñiguez, kids from the audience are invited onstage to learn a traditional Mexican dance. (Staff photo by Alex Linder)

The music featured in Fiesta Mexicana comes from regions across Mexico. To play all these different styles, the six members of the group play 70 different acoustic instruments.

These include traditional instruments like guitars, fiddles and drums, but also include less typical instruments made from armadillo shells, donkey skulls and conch shells.

“Whenever I think of Mexican music, I typically think of mariachi with maracas,” said Amy Hogan, 35, a librarian from Carrboro who brought her daughter Ann. “This band went way beyond that with a bunch of instruments I’ve never even seen. It was nice to learn about them.”

Díes said that Sones de México is very dedicated to teaching. During their visit, they held workshops at local schools and played for more than 500 kids at the ArtsCenter.

Victor Pichardo, 44, the director of the ensemble, said that he came up with the idea of Fiesta Mexicana not only to teach Latino children about their Mexican heritage, but to teach those around as well.

“I think it’s good for children who are growing up beside Mexican kids and want to learn about it,” he said. “Kids are becoming more and more exposed to different cultures, and it’s not as foreign as it used to be.”

The songs and lessons of Fiesta Mexicana are taken from a double album released last April called Fiesta Mexicana: Mexican Songs and Stories for Niños and Niñas and their Papás and Mamás. The album includes two discs, one in English and the other in Spanish.

The Sones de México Ensemble began touring Chicago schools in 1994 and since has toured throughout the country. They were nominated for a Grammy in 2007 with their album “Esta Tierra Es Tuya” (This Land is Your Land). The album includes covers of not only the Woody Guthrie classic, but also Led Zeppelin’s “Four Sticks” and J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 2 & 3.”

“A couple of years ago we did some songs to integrate in with American culture,” Pichardo said. “Pretty soon American culture is going to have mix with us.”

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High school class not for the wary

Posted on March 24th, 2011 in Carrboro children,Editorials/columns,School news,Uncategorized by jock

By Michael Bloom

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Not many high school students take a class where criticism and backlash are as commonplace as formulas and midterms.

Jan Gottschalk's journalism class produces the Jagwire monthly. In the above image, the class discusses the importance of diversity, responsibility and law in the news (Photo by Kimberly R. Holzer-Lane).

But at Carrboro High School’s student newspaper, the Jagwire, disclosure and deadlines go hand in hand for juniors and seniors.

“It was a very difficult week for our paper,” said Emily Vaughn, senior copy editor at the Jagwire.

In the March edition of the student-run paper, a map was published showing the layout of the high school’s lunchroom seating arrangements. Each table had a label corresponding to the perceived character of the students who sat there.

“The map was in the entertainment section—not to be taken too seriously—but it became much bigger,” Vaughn said.

Tables were labeled “jocks,” “freshman preps,” “ethnic beauties,” “senior burnouts,” “people who always leave trash” and “pretty little liars,” among others.

The caption for the illustration read, “The map may be one snapshot of the Commons (the lunchroom), but is it reality for you? Why be constrained by a label? It’s Spring and time to branch out.”

“We were amazed at the response from the map—it was intense. We weren’t thrilled that we were getting heat, but we were thrilled that it was making news and that people cared,” said Josie Hollingsworth, co-editor-in-chief.

The student response was like no other the paper had seen in its four-year history. A simple illustration of a daily setting caused an uproar the Jagwire staff hadn’t expected.

Faculty advisor and Jagwire founder, Jan Gottschalk, said students were tearing up copies by lunchtime. She said a ruckus had ensued and that students resented the illustration—one intended to be comical.

Gottschalk said that some students even refused to go back to class.

“There was so much turmoil that a couple of our editors decided to do a formal apology on the PA system one afternoon,” Gottschalk said. “The next day, we had a forum in our journalism class that filled the room. We had kids sitting on the floor talking about issues like diversity in our newsroom, the harshness of the illustration and the stereotypes that went along with it.”

Vaughn said the paper doesn’t regret the illustration. She said editors had to figure out how to make the students feel better about the illustration while still keeping their integrity.

The Jagwire is the student run newspaper of Carrboro High School in its fourth year of publication (Photo by Michael Bloom).

Even after all the commotion, the paper doesn’t shy away from juice.

They’ve spoken with the school administration about student depression, interviewed a drug dealer and conducted a survey on anonymous drug and alcohol use.

For the next issue, they’ll focus on sex. They plan to do side-by-side editorials: one about waiting until marriage to have sex and one about not waiting.

“I think it’s important to delve deep into an issue,” said Mary Morrison, senior online editor. “And with sex, there is so much to look at.”

The paper is developed, written and published in class yet many of the editors come in on Sundays to help catch up. Gottschalk teaches about 35 juniors and seniors in what she calls a “production class” that meets daily in what they all call “the war room.”

Gottschalk said the paper needs to improve upon its diversity in staff, with only one African-American writer and three Latina writers. She said they are actively recruiting more diverse students for next year’s class.

The publication goes to print about once a month, giving students enough time to complete stories on deadline and juggle other schoolwork. The paper is struggling to keep afloat with funds because all advertising is student-run. Both Gottschalk and Morrison said the development of their online edition is crucial for the paper’s survival.

Editors say they love what they do, regardless of controversy and high stress. Vaughn said that she has stayed late after school copyediting, but it was all worth it in the end.

And with a 20-page paper on the horizon, they’ve got to be serious.

“I would pass up on other work to do Jagwire stories any day,” Hollingsworth said. “With a paper like this and a family like this, you wouldn’t want to pass it up.”

The paper is divided into five sections: “Jag Country” is where school news is reported, “Top Spots” is for features, “Roar” is the opinion section, “Craze” is the entertainment section, and the last section is sports. Hollingsworth said news values are hard to maintain with a monthly publication, so the paper strives to be a news-magazine.

Gottschalk said she is thrilled with the way her students perform, especially the editors. She said she tries to keep them motivated and excited about what they’re doing in the midst of all the other demands they have as students. She said she wants them to still have a life.

“It’s like a family because we’re working toward something together,” Gottschalk said. “And it’s like the best of coaching. You want to bring the best out of them, using coaching skills. So you work hard, then you find time to play hard and celebrate.”

The dry erase board in the Jagwire "war room" is where it all begins (Photo by Michael Bloom).

Editors say Gottschalk brings a motherly affection to their lives. They said they trust her and trust in her judgment as an overseer of production.

“She was out of town last week, so when I saw her this morning she hugged me and screamed, ‘Mary!’ I mean, she’s my school mom,” Morrison said.

Hollingsworth said Gottschalk has a good read on the school.

“She knows what’s hot—she knows what’s not,” Hollingsworth said. “She can write six headlines in like two minutes.”

Gottschalk said students are proud of their paper and that the student body has also embraced the publication, even with a sticky relationship as of late.

“Students who are not a part of the staff still see something that they are proud to take home,” Gottschalk said. “It’s colorful, relatable and has a lot of stuff they enjoy reading.”

The paper is one of the most successful in the district—placing gold in a Columbia University award competition.

With a group of senior editors graduating in June, the Jagwire looks to the future to maintain its gritty reputation.

And maybe, more awards are to come.

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Carrboro clothing line combats bullying

Posted on March 24th, 2011 in Business,Carrboro children,Uncategorized by jock

By Megan Walker

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

In the midst of rising national concern about bullying, two Carrboro moms recently launched a clothing line with the goal of raising funds and awareness for bullying prevention.

“It is an incredibly important issue,” said co-founder Melissa Weiss.  “Even people who think that bullying doesn’t affect them or that it doesn’t affect their children, I can guarantee that it affects every student in every kind of school.”

Melissa Weiss, with partner Meredith Weiss, launched the “Be a Friend” custom clothing line a few months ago.  All items have graphics of animated friendships.  The line currently features t-shirts, sweat shirts, hats and pins, which can all be purchased on their website.

Melissa Weiss poses for a photo next to some of the "Be a Friend" clothing she sold at a booth in University Mall on March 18. (Staff Photo by Megan Walker)

Melissa Weiss, who serves as spokesperson for the partners, said, “We sell these shirts and donate a significant portion of our proceeds back to an organization that works on bullying and special needs as a way to give back.”

According to their website, one dollar from every item sold is currently donated to the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center.

In March, President Barack Obama held the first ever White House Conference on bullying prevention.  He said, “A third of middle school and high school students have reported being bullied during the school year.  Almost 3 million students have said they were pushed, shoved, tripped, even spit on.”

He said, “If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.  It’s not.”

Melissa Weiss said, “I think it [bullying] is getting more attention and publicity than it ever has before. It is being acknowledged as a problem.  I don’t think when I went to school anyone even talked about it.  It just happened.”

In his address, President Obama said, “It’s also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different, whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation.”

Melissa Weiss said she was motivated to start the line because she has a son with speech delays and heard stories from other parents about bullying at speech therapy.

“Finding a safe environment for your child to go to school, most people don’t even have to think about that, but if you have a child with special needs, that’s in your thought process all the time,” said Melissa Weiss.

She sold merchandise in University Mall on March 18 and was enthusiastic to see the clothing line starting conversations.

“I’ve just seen these spontaneous conversations happening with the parents and the kids explaining about bullying and what kids with special needs are,” she said. “They just had these really wonderful conversations.”

She also said the clothing line is geared toward smaller children. “I think it needs to start in the elementary school.”

Principal Emily Bivins of Carrboro Elementary, and principal Amanda Hartness of McDougle Elementary, said their schools have an anti-bullying curriculum. The schools’ programs are called Second Step for preK to 2nd grade and Steps to Respect for grades 3 to 5.

“It is the number one job of the district and school to make sure that students feel safe and secure at school,” said Hartness.  “I encourage my teachers to take time in class to build a sense of community within the classroom.  Taking the time to build this community helps decrease bullying and teasing.”

Bivins said she had not heard of the clothing line, but would be interested in their goals.

Melissa Weiss said her goal for the clothing line is to use it as a fundraiser in schools with the proceeds going to fund the bullying prevention programs.

“If people start responding to it differently instead of being afraid of the bully or thinking the bully is cool, it’s going to happen less,” she said.

President Obama said, “No child should be afraid to go to school in this country.”

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Sacrificial Poets gives voice to teens

Posted on March 3rd, 2011 in A&E,Carrboro children,Features,Uncategorized by jock

By Megan Gassaway

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Have you ever met the yellow power ranger? Ever held hands with him at the bus stop, or wrestled with him in the basement once? I have. The Yellow Power Ranger and I used to be best friends…

Julia McKeown stands before an audience of peers, teachers and poetry enthusiasts. The stage is empty except for a microphone. She needs no props or backdrops. Her weapon is her voice.

McKeown is one of 10 teenagers who participated in Sacrificial Poets’ February Youth Qualifier at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham on Friday, Feb. 25. The slam, or poetry competition, is only one of several outlets for Sacrificial Poets.

Julia McKeown, fifth from the left, awaits the results of Friday's February Youth Qualifier. Ten poets, including McKeown, performed original poems at the Hayti Heritage Center on Friday, Feb. 25. Photo by Megan Gassaway

“It’s a spoken word poetry organization geared towards youth,” said Sacrificial Poets’ artistic director Kane Smego, 25. “It is a for-youth, by-youth organization.”

Sacrificial Poets is North Carolina’s premier youth poetry organization and the state’s only internationally competing youth performance poetry team, according to the Sacrificial Poets website.

Originally named the Chapel Hill Slam Team, the group has since spread to Durham and Carrboro. It hosts events at the Carrboro Century Center, performs at Festifall and works closely with poetry clubs at local high schools.

As the group evolved, the team shed the name Chapel Hill Slam Team and adopted Sacrificial Poets, which honors a founding member and close friend of the group, Ira Yarmolenko, who died in May 2008. The name also acknowledges the role of the “sacrificial poet,” a poet who makes a sacrifice by performing a poem that acts as the scoring standard for a competition.

While the Sacrificial Poets host slams and attend competitions, its focus is on open mics and other non-competitive poetry events. In this mission, Sacrificial Poets help youth to “construct a platform” for community organizing and building.

“For me, what we try to convey is a sense of sharing identity,” Smego said.

But when the poets stand before the microphone, they are no longer constricted to others’ perceptions. They take their identity into their own hands.

“Poetry is therapy,” Smego said. “Spoken word is an amazing tool for community building because it helps create bonds and webs of understanding that revolve around who people say they are.”

Smego said spoken word poetry is an “outlet for energy” and a place to share struggles and triumphs.

Whereas sports like basketball build community around a shared goal, poetry creates a unique community where interests intersect on a deeper level, Smego says.

“The thing we’re united around, the actual thing we share in common is a mechanism for getting to know ourselves,” Smego says.

The yellow power ranger and I were best friends, but you can’t catch childhood and put it in a jar. So we chased it like the wind in the summer, racing each other around the playground like tornadoes. We found the eye of the storm in our imagination…

“A lot of my writing comes from my emotions,” said McKeown, who has written about topics including sex and society, race and friendship. McKeown said the poem “Power Ranger” stems from a personal experience.

But McKeown does not write just to benefit herself; she hopes that others will relate to her poetry.

McKeown moved from the small town of Ashland, Mass., after her freshman year of high school. When she arrived in Chapel Hill, she didn’t know anyone and felt lost.

“I moved to Chapel Hill where standards were so high,” McKeown said. “I felt like I was falling off the face of the Earth.”

McKeown was introduced to spoken word poetry when Sacrificial Poets executive director and founding member CJ Suitt, 24, performed for an English class at Chapel Hill High. Following Suitt’s presentation, the teacher assigned a poetry project to students. McKeown not only wrote a poem for the class — she decided to perform the poem at a local slam.

She didn’t stop there. McKeown continued to write and perform her poetry, and, after coaching from Suitt, McKeown qualified for Sacrificial Poets’ 2010 Final Slam.

“I owe those guys, like, everything,” McKeown says about Sacrificial Poets. “The poetry they taught me to do was my outlet.”

The group provided McKeown emotional support, but also gave her a community.

“They support me and validate me,” McKeown said. “There’s an automatic community of people who support you. There’s stomping, clapping, snapping encouragement when you go on stage.”

Poetry has also forced McKeown to redefine her outlook on the world.

“Doing poetry, you reassess the way that you judge people. People get on stage and spill their hearts,” McKeown said. “When you get up, it’s about what you spit – the words you use. It’s like the entire audience is blind.”

I was in love with the yellow power ranger, but cartoon characters can’t quite reciprocate because they’re two–, or in your case, one–dimensional…

“Sacrificial Poets empowers youth to tell their stories and speak their truths,” says Mackensie Malkemes, a supporter of the group and a creative writing and English teacher at Carrboro High. “The focus on both exposing and provinding a call-to-action for basically every social justice issue one could think of is one of my favorite aspects of the group’s work. The members are involved in the community and inspire others to come together to promote positive change.”

“The Sac Po organization and the people who run it are people who let you tell your stories,” McKeown said. “There’s a general sharing of culture and fears. You feel that connection that is so lacking in society.”

Sacrificial Poets, or “Sac Po,” is seeking change throughout North Carolina, and Carrboro is no exception.

The group has come to fulfill a unique niche within the communities of Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Durham by building community and encouraging self-expression among local youth.

“It really is the only one of its kind in the area,” Malkemes said. “I think Sac Po no only encourages people to speak out about pressing societal and community issues, but the group really serves as a catalyst in producing informed, tolerant, impressive individuals.”

Smego says that at any of the group’s events “you can see a diverse crowd of poets that interact, respect and support each other, who often times would not have otherwise come into contact or forge friendships.”

At Friday’s slam, there was a “representation of black, white, Christian, Muslim, male and female poets,” Smego said.

“We like to think that every event we have is like a classroom where youth teach and learn from each other,” Smego said.

McKeown said that the group serves as a way for local teenagers to become more self-confident.

“Spoken word is no rules, and that is so freeing. You don’t have to rhyme and you don’t have to make sense,” McKeown said. “It’s a really good outlet for teenagers to say who they are and not be ashamed.”

I want to remember the 4-year-old yellow power ranger. I want to remember what it was like to have a best friend.

For more videos from February’s Youth Qualifier, go here: For more Sacrificial Poets videos, go here:

Unsetting a TABLE of hunger

Posted on March 3rd, 2011 in Carrboro children,Food,TABLE by jock

By Michael Bloom

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

About 90 elementary school children’s lives changed in 2008.

UNC volunteers at the hunger relief organization TABLE in Carrboro check locally grown potatoes for freshness (Photo by: Michael Bloom).

They no longer had to go hungry on the weekends. They now had a program that would bring fresh food directly to them.

All they had to do was go to an after-school program and pick up a backpack.

“When I would show up on Friday the kids would scream, ‘Oh, here comes the backpack lady,’” said Leighann Breeze, associate director at the Carrboro-based hunger relief organization, TABLE.

Now in its fourth year, the nonprofit volunteer service packs loaner backpacks for children from low-income families in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district weekly. Many of these students eat reduced price or free meals at school and rely on TABLE to feed them on weekends.

Every Friday, UNC-Chapel Hill student volunteers and community members drop off hundreds of pounds of food to elementary schools and apartment complexes in the district, feeding underprivileged children who would have had difficulty finding food elsewhere.

“We put food directly in the hands of kids so they don’t have to go through anybody else. And we guarantee they get the food they need,” said Breeze.

Breeze said TABLE is unique in that it provides children with local organic produce and non-perishables that would be difficult to attain elsewhere. She said there are plenty of opportunities in the community with food pantries and soup kitchens for children to be fed, but said kids are at a disadvantage because they have no control over whether their parents make use of those resources.

Breeze said TABLE gets permission from parents to supply their children with goods.

“Twenty-four percent of Chapel Hill families are living below the poverty line. That shows you that there is this huge gap — there are a lot of ‘have-nots’ and then there are very few that have a whole lot,” she said. “And so TABLE works to link the two together and have one provide for the other.”

UNC student volunteers carry bins full of food to multiple destinations around the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities for underprivileged children (Photo by: Michael Bloom).

Breeze said the program is hands-off for the children and does not interrupt their daily routines. They just go to their regularly scheduled afterschool program and pick up a backpack. She said receiving food in backpacks, instead of grocery bags, gives children a greater sense of privacy. She said the best part is that the children do not have to travel to get them.

TABLE delivers to the Abbey Court, Trinity Court, Pritchard Park and Dobbins Hill apartments, the South Estes Farmers’ Market and various elementary schools. Food is sorted throughout the week in bins that UNC students deliver on their own time with their own vehicles. TABLE has about five to eight volunteers a day.

The “Weekend Backpack Project,” as it is called, supplies children with canned meat, vegetables, fruit, juice boxes, packaged breakfast food, snacks — like crackers and peanut butter — noodles and local organic produce. The menus alternate weekly so the children can get a variety of nutrients.

“It’s a fun way to eat healthy foods and get more exposure to healthy eating habits so when they [the children] grow up they will enjoy eating healthy, colorful foods,” said Monica Heiser, a UNC sophomore from Chapel Hill. Heiser has volunteered with TABLE since she was a freshman in 2009.

With TABLE’s newly installed “Farm to Table” program, local farmers donate excess fruits and vegetables to the relief. Breeze said they received a grant this year from BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina to get lower-income families to practice healthier eating habits. She said the grant has gone a long way.

One of the farming associations is Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) located in Pittsboro. Operations manager Todd Dumke said the amount of dollars spent on fresh food is declining and would like to see more people educated on the importance of sustainable agriculture. ECO provides TABLE with an array of locally grown produce.

“I think aside from the obvious nutritional value from getting fresh produce to more needy families, I think there’s a lot of benefit in the fact that it’s locally grown,” said Dumke. “And it’s important from the aspect that along the lines we are educating folks.”

Dumke said this has been a good outlet for both sides. He said there is a tax benefit for growers, but the impact they are making on the community stretches further. Heiser said getting donations from local farmers adds a unique tie because it is now a full circle operation.

Breeze said TABLE gets exterior donations from dozens of other groups. She said community members, churches, entire neighborhoods and apartment complexes contribute. She said other local elementary schools with community service clubs at the fourth and fifth-grade levels and birthday party donation drives also supply TABLE with non-perishables they need.

“We’ve really been fortunate in that we haven’t had to go out and buy food or run to the food bank because we’ve run out,” she said. “People have been generous and do take care of us.”

Breeze said the largest donations she has seen in her four years of service have come from the organization People Offering Relief for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Homes — or simply PORCH. She said their most recent donation was 2,200 pounds of food. TABLE gives out about 300 pounds of food per week, so 2,200 pounds goes fast, Breeze said.

TABLE director Joy MacVane said the relief has grown much faster than expected. She said she is surprised how much the kids actually enjoy the food because she initially thought it would be difficult for them to enjoy organic produce.

Locally grown turnips are ready to go (Photo by: Michael Bloom).

“Now kids often say to me, ‘What did the farmer bring us this week?’ And it’s so rewarding to hear that,” she said.

The relief is also an advocate of community. Besides supporting locally grown produce, TABLE encourages UNC and local high school students to volunteer and allow the students to sign-off on volunteer hours.

“The fact that TABLE is located in Carrboro is awesome because it’s such a tight-knit community,” said Heiser. “The locals are the ones that are just as intimately involved with this organization as the people who run it.”

Although they help hundreds, TABLE is a small organization. With no full-time and only a handful of part-time employees, the organization relies on volunteers to help keep the effort afloat.

But it’s the volunteers who like doing the dirty work.

“There’s just something you feel about being able to connect with the kids even though you can’t really see them. But you know the food you’re putting in each bag is contributing to their health and well-being,” said Mazare Rogers, a senior at UNC. She is in her fourth semester volunteering with TABLE.

A veteran at TABLE, Rogers said she loves meeting new volunteers as she councils them on how the effort works. She said TABLE’s best assets are the UNC volunteers.

“We’re all young so it’s like we’re growing with the program year by year,” Rogers said.

And as for its name, Breeze said TABLE is not an acronym for anything.

“We wanted to find a place for everyone at the table,” she said. “And I think that’s were it got drawn in.”

Puppet show plays with imagination

Posted on March 3rd, 2011 in Carrboro children,Events by jock

By Alex Linder

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

When most people think of a puppet show they imagine “The Muppets,” or marionettes, small puppets controlled by the hand. In Carrboro, people enjoy puppet shows in the form of giant puppets, papier-mache creatures, engaging masks and shadow plays.

Paperhand Puppet Intervention, a group of artists, actors and musicians based in Saxapahaw, a town near Burlington, has carved out their unique vision in the community. Their most recent production, “The Big Tent Cabaret Road Show,” opened in the Carrboro ArtsCenter last weekend.

Donovan Zimmerman, the co-founder of Paperhand Puppet Intervention pumps the crowd up before the Big Tent Cabaret Road Show. (Staff photo by Alex Linder)

“What I expected I was going to see was something very different from what I got,” said Amy Collins, 36, of Carrboro, after seeing her first Paperhand performance. “I was really shocked by the size and creativity of their puppets. It was the furthest thing from people just talking with their hands.”

The first part of the show consists of seven vignettes, or short scenes. Donovan Zimmerman, 40, the co-director of the show and co-founder of Paperhand Puppet Intervention, said that the different pieces cover a range of human emotions.

“The production is a collection of really fun vignettes that range from really silly, to touching and sweet, to somewhat exciting and crazy,” said Zimmerman, who plays many of the characters in the performance.

The show felt familiar to many in the audience who had seen a Paperhand production before since it included some favorite puppets from past performances.

“When my daughter saw the frog puppet she let out a little yelp of glee,” said Beth Dunlap, 42, of Carrboro, who has taken her daughter, Samantha, to see Paperhand shows five times. “She really gets a kick out of him.”

Daniel Woodard, 40, said that he has taken his children to the Paperhand performance in the Forest Theatre every fall for the past three years. This was the first time he had seen Paperhand at the less spacious ArtsCenter.

In the front row, Martin Gonzalez, 10, and Alex Stewart, 9, are amazed by a giant puppet. (Staff photo by Alex Linder)

“It was quite different; the performers were closer and it felt a bit more intimate,” he said. “Still, they opened it up by taking the puppets into the audience, which is always such a real treat for the kids.”

Zimmerman said that he really tries to get the crowd involved with the performance.

“It’s really all about that connection with the audience,” he said. “I think that’s why people love our work and come back in big numbers, especially because they feel they are a part of it in some way.”

Zimmerman said that there is also a part of Paperhand that is constantly pushing and looking for new, interesting ways to entertain the audience and produce emotion. The show’s second half, “Lumanity,” exhibited this effort.

An experiment with light and dance, the performance takes place in the dark. The performers wear suits with stick figures of light that appear to be floating off the ground.

“The performance begins with a cell and out of that comes the different characters,” Zimmerman said. “It unfolds from there and gets funky when we bring in the drums.”

Woodard said that both the adults and children came away very impressed. “I thought it was amazing,” he said. “I rarely see Jordan sit so long without moving, so I know that he was just as stunned as I was.”

“The Big Tent Cabaret Roadshow” continues through March 6. Show times are available on the ArtsCenter website.

“We are so lucky that Paperhand calls Carrboro one of their homes,” Dunlap said. “They are a real gem and a Triangle secret.”

Ridin’ the J Bus: 14-year-old Treshawn has big plans

Posted on March 3rd, 2011 in Carrboro children,Features,J Bus,Lifestyles by jock

By Allison Russell

Carrboro Commons Co-Editor

Back during the Jazz Age in New York City, you took the A Train to get to Harlem. But to get most everywhere in Carrboro, you take the J Bus. In the spirit of Charles Kuralt’s dictum that everyone has a story, Commons reporter Allison Russell jumped on the J Bus and selected a rider to interview at random.

Although they may not know it, the people who ride the J Bus are in good hands when 14-year-old Treshawn Hackney steps onto it.

“I could probably fix the bus if it broke down,” says Treshawn, who is interested in a career in mechanical engineering.

Treshawn Hackney, 14, rides the J Bus home from middle school everyday. He aspires to be a mechanical engineer and loves playing football. “I come up with ideas that are brilliant,” Treshawn says.

An eighth-grader at McDougle Middle School, Treshawn rides the J Bus home from school.

“My parents trust me.…They know I won’t get into any stupid stuff while I’m on the bus,” he says.

Treshawn is the youngest of four children, and he is the only child to still live at home with his parents, Darlene and Mike.

“Sometimes, yes, I like being the only child [to live at home], but sometimes, no, I don’t,” says Treshawn pensively.

The 14-year-old spends his time at home doing homework and playing football or paintball with his friends.

“I love sports, and I would definitely consider myself athletic,” says Treshawn, who wears the number 52 jersey as a tight end on his middle school’s football team.

His favorite professional athletes include LeBron James and Michael Vick, whom Treshawn believes should be forgiven for his past of dogfighting.

“It’s very sad,” Treshawn says of the dogs that were hurt, “but everyone makes mistakes and deserves a second chance.”

In addition to being an avid athlete, Treshawn enjoys working with his hands to create projects such as model cars and airplanes.

He first became interested in hands-on projects after his brother taught him how to fix a car.

“My brother is a mechanic, and he helps fix my parents’ car when it breaks down,” Treshawn says. “He taught me how to fix a car when I was 7 years old.”

In class, Treshawn thrives on coming up with quick ideas to enhance project designs. He says he first noticed his ability to creatively improvise after he learned how to repair a car’s engine.

“I come up with ideas that are brilliant,” he says, with self-assurance that suggests he is twice his age.

Treshawn, who can solve a Rubik’s Cube, says his favorite subjects in school are math and science, and he especially enjoys studying chemistry.

“Right now [in math class] we’re doing geometry….In the end, with the equations, they always tie into each other. You can see patterns within them.”

Although Treshawn likes living in Carrboro, he says if he could go anywhere in the world he would go to Los Angeles.

“There are lots of famous people there, and I’d like to see how their life is like, what they’re doing when they’re not working.”

His favorite movie genre is horror, and Treshawn says he would like to meet Isabelle Fuhrman, child star of the movie Orphan.

“Some of my friends met her and they say she’s really cool,” he says.

If Treshawn follows through with his desire to meet the celebrities of Los Angeles, he says he won’t want to come back to live in Carrboro.

“I don’t want to stay here forever,” he says with a quick glance out of the bus’s foggy window. “I want to explore other places.”

Carrboro Elementary’s ‘Seussical’ brings classic tales to life

Posted on February 17th, 2011 in A&E,Carrboro children,School news by jock

By Will Bryant
the Carrboro Commons

Walking into Deb Lederer’s art classroom at Carrboro Elementary School last week was like entering a portal to another world.

Students at Carrboro Elementary practice one of the scenes from "Seussical Junior." More than 150 students took part in the musical Thursday and Friday. Staff Photo by Will Bryant

On one side of the room are six large refrigerator boxes, painted on all sides with vibrant scenes of a make-believe world. Next to the scenery, on a table, is a pile of green glittery hats that looks small compared with the enormous face of the cartoon elephant leaning against the wall. Giant fluorescent papier-mache fish are scattered across the paint-splattered floor, and a large cat in a red-striped hat, stands in the corner grinning from whisker to whisker.

They’re pieces of the world of “Seussical Junior,” a musical based on the books of Dr. Seuss. Carrboro Elementary students brought it to life at three performances Thursday and Friday in the school’s auditorium.

The show’s plot features characters from the classic Dr. Seuss tales that have been read aloud to children for generations, such as “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Horton Hears a Who,” and “The Cat in the Hat.”

About 150 students, mostly fourth and fifth graders, handled the production’s singing, dancing, puppeteering, sound, lights and backstage responsibilities.

The papier-mache Cat from Dr. Seuss’ book "The Cat in the Hat" in the art room of Carrboro Elementary. "The Cat in the Hat" is one of the titles featured in the school’s production of "Seussical Junior." Staff Photo by Will Bryant

“I am excited and a bit nervous at the same time,” said cast member Alec Caruana, 10, on the night of the show’s opening. “I mean, everyone is going to be watching you.”

The production comes at a time when state school boards are cutting back on fine arts programs in public schools because of repeated budget cuts. Although arts programs in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have not borne most of the burden of cuts, money is still tight.

“We hear all the time what we don’t have time for and what we don’t have money for,” Lederer said.

But Lederer, who directed “Seussical” and designed the sets, said the show brought the school together. “Seussical” was in the works for about six months, Caruana said. And nearly all of the children in the production, Lederer said, came to school early, stayed late and even skipped their recess periods during the week to work on the show.

“I think we have learned collaboration is a huge key and that you need to be a team player, work together, listen to each other and know that you have something to offer,” Lederer said. “Every single person has some bit of creativity.”

Lederer said “Seussical” is all about giving kids an outlet for that creativity and potentially getting them interested in the arts.

“Some of these kids, if they didn’t have this experience, might not go on to audition for shows in middle school, high school or college,” Lederer said. “Now we’ve got some kids that have got the theater bug in them.”

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Starting Spanish early at Carrboro Elementary School

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 in Books,Carrboro children,En Español,Latino Issues,School news by jock

By Trevor Kapp
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this story, Special Education Teacher Holly Duncan and Reading Teacher Maria Arbiol (pictured below) were not correctly identified in the captions. The Commons apologizes and regrets the error.

Lupita Cortes speaks fluent Spanish with a nearly perfect accent, which is particularly audible when she pronounces words like “correr,” “nosotros” and “hora.”

Cortes has, after all, grown up in a Spanish-only-speaking household with Mexican parents who have put great emphasis on accent and elocution.

“We correct her if she pronounces a word badly,” said Edith Cortes, Lupita’s mother.

Lupita Cortes (right) and her classmates play Spanish word games on their iPod touches as Special Education Teacher Holly Duncan instructs them. Staff photo by Trevor Kapp

But when the 5-year-old is asked to read the language and write basic sentences, she struggles at times.

Cortes is one of 48 kindergarteners—divided into two sections—enrolled in the dual language program at Carrboro Elementary School, which for nine years has been teaching students as young as preschoolers basic Spanish skills with the hope that they can become proficient in speaking and writing early in life.

“It’s important because around the world, the majority of people don’t just speak one language,” said Alexandra Romero, Cortes’ Spanish teacher, who is in her third year at the school. “The average person speaks more than two languages, so here we teach them two languages. The ones who know Spanish learn English, and the ones who know English learn Spanish.”

Cortes’ day begins with English instruction in the morning, which consists of basic reading and writing exercises designed to improve her comfort level with the language. At noon, she and her classmates break for lunch and then take about 20 minutes to practice a dance routine to be performed in front of parents in the coming weeks.

Around 1 p.m., they walk to Romero’s classroom to begin Spanish lessons for the afternoon.

“We do everything,” Romero said. “We dance, we read books. They’re looking at listening exercises and letter exercises, some words that are used frequently, and we practice writing them.”

Romero added that the class has also done a geography and culture section, in which it looked at several Spanish-speaking countries and their customs and daily routines.

On this particular day, though, the students were divided into four groups and practiced various activities ranging from letter exercises with blocks to playing games on iPod touches.

“Everything we do is fun,” Cortes said. “I’m learning how to write. I know how to speak, but I don’t know how to write.”

Reading Teacher Maria Arbiol works with students in Alexandra Romero’s kindergarten class on their Spanish pronunciation. Staff photo by Trevor Kapp

“I like the computers,” another student said, referring to the iPod touches. “I’m with my friends, and I like doing the exercises.”

The class relies heavily on teaching assistants and volunteers—particularly UNC-Chapel Hill Spanish students involved in service learning—to assist the kindergarteners with the various exercises.

“The kids are much better at Spanish than I am,” joked Cassandra McCandless, a Chapel Hill native and UNC-CH freshman who recently began volunteer in Romero’s class.

“They’re already practically fluent in both languages.”

With up to four instructors in the classroom at a particular time, students are able to take full advantage of the available resources and hone a variety of linguistic skills at the different stations.

But the success of Carrboro Elementary’s dual language program has not come without some adversity.

“We have difficulty finding material that’s in Spanish,” Romero said. “It’s a little complicated in terms of money and because (the material) doesn’t exist. There’re a lot of activities and materials in English, but not in Spanish.”

In addition, the program has become so popular that the school has had to institute a lottery at the beginning of the year to determine which students will receive dual language instruction and which will be traditionally schooled.

“We’re overfilled,” says Mayra Menjivar, who is in her fourth year as a teaching assistant at Carrboro Elementary. “If someone withdraws, the next day someone else enrolls.”

Because of the lack of space, Menjivar said, the school is going to decide in the coming weeks whether to make its entire curriculum dual language.

Menjivar said she believed some parents were opposed to the idea because of the heavy burden and rigorous workload a second language would put on their children. But she added that the benefits were far too widespread to ignore.

“Culture is evolving,” she said. “To succeed in the future, they’ll need it. In jobs, they want people who speak both, and if you can’t compete, you won’t go far.”

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Shabazz brings his love of poetry to McDougle students

Posted on October 19th, 2010 in A&E,Carrboro children,School news by jock

By Gloria Lloyd
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Ask students at McDougle Middle School in Carrboro what they think of their guest poetry teacher Phillip Shabazz, and you will invariably receive the same enthusiastic answer:  “I love Mr. Shabazz!”

After a week of reading and writing poetry at McDougle Middle School, Carrboro poet Phillip Shabazz helps the young eighth-grade poets in Kimberly Battle’s Language Arts class get started on writing the poem that serves as their final quiz. (Staff photo by Gloria Lloyd)

Shabazz is a working poet who lives in Carrboro and has published three books of verse.  Shabazz typically teaches poetry during residencies at 30 to 50 schools throughout North Carolina and the United States each year, spanning third grade to college, with a focus on middle school students.

For more than a decade, Shabazz has taught poetry, a week at a time, to McDougle students. Beginning in fifth grade at the adjoining McDougle Elementary School, students spend a week studying poetry with Shabazz each year through the eighth grade.

The week of Oct. 11, Shabazz taught over 100 eighth-graders in Kimberly Battle’s Language Arts classes how to find their inner poet and express themselves through verse. Some of the students look forward to the week of poetry all year.

“To have someone here who is a working poet—it says that men are poets, African-Americans are poets, you can be a poet, you are a poet.  It engages every student,” McDougle Principal Debra Scott explained. “They see he is here and real and authentic, writing poetry you can understand.”

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