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Commemorating a Year of Learning Through Art

Teachers, children, donors and congressmen gather at Wolf Trap.

Kofi Dennis and Kwame Ansah Brew and about 30 excited 4-year-olds put on their "magic hats" and flew off to Ghana to learn Ghanaian songs and games. They danced to Kwame's "talking drum," sang the call and response greeting "Ago, ame," and rhythmically touched their heads, shoulders, knees and toes.

It was the kind of session that Dennis and Ansah Brew have taken to children all over the area. This time, though, was a little different. Behind the preschoolers sat rows of grown men and women in business suits who laughed at the duo's jokes and who somewhat self-consciously joined in the songs and games.

Dennis, Ansah Brew and the preschoolers from the Annandale Christian Community for Action (ACCA) were demonstrating the arts education programs at the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts on the occasion of the first anniversary of the opening of the Wolf Trap Center for Education in Vienna. The suits in the background included Wolf Trap donors, board members, staffers and U.S. Reps. Tom Davis (R-11th) and Jim Moran (D-8th), who earmarked $200,000 in federal funds for the institute this year.

Since it opened in May 2003, the $10.5 million, 53,000-square-foot Center for Education has served as a training center for Wolf Trap's "teaching artists," who train public school teachers in arts education.

"It has allowed us to expand the opportunities in the community," said Akua Femi Kouyate, associate director of local education programs for the Wolf Trap Institute. "Now, we actually have a professional development training center here."

Wolf Trap retains about 200 teaching artists nationwide who establish partnerships with their local school systems.

"They're not performing," she said. "They're actually in the classrooms doing professional development for teachers."

The idea is to use art to help children such as the ACCA preschoolers with skills they will need throughout their lives.

"They were learning about body parts. They were learning about sequences — sequencing is a preliteracy skill," said Femi Kouyate. "There's a lot of language development, fine motor and gross motor skills. There's a lot of learning embedded in the process."

The Wolf Trap Institute has brought arts education to classrooms all over the country since the program started in 1981.

THE WOLF TRAP PROGRAMS are giving children exposure to cultures from around the world, especially as Northern Virginia gets increasingly diverse, said Davis, the congressman. "That's what's becoming of Northern Virginia, and Wolf Trap is contributing to that," he said.

Moran called the money sent to Wolf Trap's education programs "the best money that we spend on education."

Both Davis and Moran followed along with Dennis and Ansah Brew's hand motions, which didn't surprise Ansah Brew.

"The adults really get into it," he said. "It's really interesting to see people in their suits [dancing along]."

Dennis and Ansah Brew are trained musicians who have been living in the United States for five years. They form a duo called “Anansegromma,” which travels to schools all over Virginia.

"What we're doing is getting [children] to participate," said Ansah Brew. "They are excited, but they're really learning a lot."