A second chance at Christmas

Published 12:22 am Saturday, December 17, 2011

The guest ticket, a design of snowflakes on varying shades of blue read “3rd Annual Winter Gala, Dec. 15, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at Ed Tech Café.” The scene was an elegant winter wonderland, where subtle lighting revealed black tablecloths dotted with glittering paper snowflakes and alternating centerpieces: poinsettias twinkling with light, red pillar candles on beds of faux snow. Both music and conversation was muted as the crowd waited for dinner to be served and the performance to begin.

The “Ed Tech Café” is the everyday cafeteria of the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center. Two types of students attend the school: kids on a fast track to graduation and entering the work force to help support their families and students referred by other county schools for disciplinary reasons. The Winter Gala, though presented under the guidance of teachers and staff, is a completely student-driven affair.

Students of Beaufort County Ed Tech Center’s Foods I and Foods II classes served up their culinary creations at their third annual Winter Gala. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

Five years ago, the first gala was thrown to showcase the after-school music program Principal Will Bryant had organized, but as the event evolved, growing to include the Foods I and Foods II classes, the unexpected benefits became apparent.
“We do this because we want (our students) to experience teamwork,” said Bryant. “To see how an event begins, ends, and how it all comes together.”

Bryant spoke about how it can be a challenge to get their students to achieve in the classroom, but they “work rings around people when it comes to these events.”

The work involved making decorations, preparing food, serving the meal, and cleanup. For teacher Kristin Koltun, it meant her English students made large, intricately cut, paper snowflakes, each one decorating a window of the cafeteria.

“I love looking at them because each one represents a person,” Koltun said, gesturing to the decorations, then the general room. “To see this come from them—it’s pretty incredible.”

Though the black-clad members of the Foods I and II classes stood behind the buffet line, offering the meal they’d made for the event, Elois Taliaferro was too nervous to do much eating. Her daughter, Kassandra, a junior, was to sing in public for the first time with the Ed Tech music group. Taliaferro spoke about how her daughter became involved with the group, which involves after-school participation two days a week.

“They asked her what she liked to do and she told them two things — ‘I like doing hair and singing,’” said Taliaferro.

Bryant has a strong musical background and uses that to reach out to students, working with them individually if they are interested in learning to play.

Kassandra Taliaferro, along with Ed Tech graduate, Tashauna Wiggins — with some backup vocals from Bryant — sang a variation of “Silent Night” and band-written “Merry Christmas to You.” Jaleel Satterthwaite played keyboards, while Trevon Patterson sat behind the drum kit. Zacheus Sutton took over on drums for another song, an original jazz piece written by Patterson and fleshed out by the rest of the band, including more vocals by Wiggins and Taliaferro.

A first for the Ed Tech gala, the theater arts students wrote and produced a play, “A Foster Home Christmas,” which, said Margie Holder, the theater arts teacher, “is a reflection of their lives and the things they deal with in their lives.”

In the play, an angel, in the form of a nosy neighbor played by Kiara Collins, helps three uninterested and resentful foster children (Jaikaira Flowers, John Bubba Robbins, and Jaleel Satterthwaite) learn to appreciate and respect their foster parent, Rosanne, played by Jikema Lucas. The students collaborated with East Carolina University College of Fine Arts and Communication’s Patch Clark, visiting the theater and dance departments where ECU students spoke to them about playwriting and careers in the arts. A BB&T Bank Young Playwrights Grant, which Clark oversees, funded the sessions.

The audience reaction to the Ed Tech performances was equal parts pride and amazement, as the level of commitment to the project was recognized — commitment from students who have very seldom desired to, or were allowed to, commit because of disciplinary problems.

Elois Taliaferro summed up the response: “It just shows how all some kids need is a second chance.”