Archives for August 2020

Lana Thurman: A Documentary on Learning to Play Guitar

Watch Lana’s chronicle of her guitar learning journey here:

Before the outbreak of coronavirus, I usually spent my time doing homework, researching for my thesis, and writing grants. When I first heard of COVID-19 in January I was preparing to conduct an independent research project in Europe, funded by a Travel Abroad Grant from the Honors College. Back then I had no idea how quickly the virus would sweep through the world. Within weeks my classes were moved online. All travel was canceled. Although I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to research abroad, I chose to look on the bright side. Quarantine is necessary to protect the community and save lives. I knew that it would be important to use my time confined indoors productively, and despite the looming pandemic, quarantine provided an opportunity to learn new skills and pursue my goals. I decided that the best way to deal with the anxiety of this pandemic was with art.
        I had always wanted to play the electric guitar, but I never learned how– until this summer, and it’s due to the coronavirus that I was able to learn. When my research trip was canceled, I had the option to still gain online credit this summer by proposing an independent experiential learning project. I knew immediately what I wanted to propose. Finally, I had the opportunity to teach myself how to play the guitar! My professor was excited to hear my proposal, and I created a 5-week schedule for my daily lessons. Instead of taking a flight to Frankfurt, on June 1st, 2020, I began my first guitar lesson. By the end of the first week, I could read tablature and play guitar riffs, and by week 2 I could play entire songs. By week 3, I started to play songs that incorporated chords, like “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica. With each lesson, I gained confidence and speed. By July 3rd I had learned to play 40 songs on the electric guitar. I filmed every lesson and compiled it all into a video journal, which I submitted as my final project for the class. I’m so excited to share my journal with everyone!
        Although this summer isn’t anything like I had planned, I am grateful for the outcome. Despite the isolation that comes with quarantine, I have gained new hobbies, learned new skills, and gained healthy ways to cope with stress. Cooking, painting, and now playing guitar are all ways that I have spent my summer, and if not for coronavirus I likely would not have engaged in these newfound pastimes. I long for an end to this tragic pandemic, but in the meantime, I hope to encourage others to engage in self-care. Learning how to play the guitar provided me with an outlet for my stress, and it led me to realize the therapeutic value of hobbies. I encourage everyone to make the most of these hard times by finding an activity that they enjoy. Someday this quarantine will end, and when it does, the benefits of learning a new skill will follow you for life.

Mary Beth Smith: Early Childhood English Tutoring in Jonesboro

Photo Credit:  KAIT8 News

Note:  ABC News interviewed Mary Beth about this experience as part of a national story on the pandemic-related challenges faced by children who are English Language Learners. Her interview starts at minute 5:00 at this link:

At the beginning of May, I proposed a project that would include me teaching English to Hispanic children through the Hispanic Center of Jonesboro. At the time, COVID-19 had caused schools to be shut down, so the children from local elementary schools were being sent packages of work to do each week for the rest of the regular school year. I had the idea of helping teach Hispanic children the content, since most of their families cannot understand the instructions or the content. I contacted the Hispanic Center of Jonesboro with hopes of being paired with someone to help, and they were able to assign me a little boy who was finishing up Kindergarten. In my original proposal, I had thought I would be paired with two little boys, but the other’s father did not have the time outside of work to arrange our tutoring sessions. However, this summer session has been wonderful with the one boy I did get to work with, and I am very glad that I was able to spend so much time with him!

Normally, the Hispanic Center would be open for the children to get tutoring in the building, but because of COVID-19, we had to work together virtually. We began by speaking over the phone, but hoped that an IPad would become available for him to be able to Facetime. An IPad was finally available, but they are still trying to raise money to get Wi-Fi. Therefore, all of our sessions ended up being over the phone. My original goal was to meet with this little boy twice a week for around one hour each day. The other days of the week, I planned to prepare for our sessions and come up with activities for him to use during and outside of our sessions. I was able to achieve these expectations. Some of our sessions ran shorter than others, either because of lack of planning enough or because of the little boy losing his attention. However, every session was at least forty minutes, so in my opinion we had a good amount of time put in each time we met.  I used the dual-language method to teach during all of these sessions, which means we used about 50% English and 50% Spanish. This method has been proven to be very effective, and I believe it truly was in this case as well. 

Outside of our sessions, I planned for our next meeting and made materials that would be helpful for his learning. When I began working with him, I was able to figure out where his skill level was by seeing what he knew and didn’t know from the packages his teachers expected him to practice. From there, I was able to make activities such as an interactive calendar, an interactive hundreds chart, and a rhyming words folder. I also found worksheets online and a couple short stories that were around his skill level. One of the best materials I used over the summer with him was a phonics workbook that I bought. This was extremely helpful for him, considering the English language is extremely different from the Spanish language when it comes to phonics. 

My biggest obstacle was having to meet solely over the phone. Because of this, I had a duplicate for everything, so we could both see the materials and work with each other. Also, it can be difficult to explain some things without using visuals, so I have had to learn how to explain things really well in Spanish and know how to be fully prepared for each session. The first couple of weeks were pretty difficult, considering I have never tried to teach someone without visuals, but I was able to adjust and it ended up being very successful!

Mya Hall: Poetry, Pandemics, and Student Government

For my summer experiential learning project, I was able to create a small volume of poetry based on my experiences working on the Student Government Association Executive Board, being a college student during a pandemic, and being a black woman in America. (You can read one of my poems  at the end of this blog post). Sometime ago I stumbled across a quote that said, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” (Anaïs Nin). To me this means that writing can act as a healing mechanism. It can help you relive moments in your life that may have been pleasant or unpleasant, but this time you are the author of those moments. This gave me the courage to start writing again. My work, just as I hoped, ranges from my thoughts while having to adjust to the new sense of normal during this pandemic, deals with challenges that I might uncover while being a liaison for the student body to SGA, and also deals with mental health while trying to focus on university life. Participating in the special project gave me an escape from the world and also served as a creative release for me.

My poetry has acted as a way to work through past traumas that I have experienced. Releasing my emotions on pen and paper really helped me to fully grow from my experiences. If I could change anything about my initial proposal, it would be to center my poetry more around the racial tension being experienced in the country right now. My poems did speak on the other topics I listed above also but mainly had a focus on race. I am very grateful for this opportunity to participate in this learning experience, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunities we have as honors students. Below is my favorite poem that I wrote during this experiential learning journey.

“I Too” Share the Blues

“I Too” share the blues of Langston Hughes

Just like Langston I too never knew the America that “Let America be America Again”

The only America I never was filled with sin never a grin

For anyone whose skin was darker than tin but we still rise as early as mother hen.

“I Too” share the blues of Langston Hughes

Just like “The Negro (who) Speaks of Rivers” I too share the same thought that the mark of my

dark complexion is not a omen but an amen because this blackness has been

the guiding force for all men from even way back when.

“I Too” share the blues of Langston Hughes

Just like Langston Hughes I know all about “The Weary Blues”

The blues that are marked by deceit and pain

The blues that are heavy as rain.

The blues that make you feel all alone

And the ones that bring forth songs.

These weary blues are a way to cope.

These blues are also a way to bring us hope.

So yea “I Too” Share the Blues of Langston Hughes.

May his words continue to be my muse.