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Local students experience cultural immersion through collaboration
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Local students experience cultural immersion through collaboration

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The students at Forest Hill Elementary School were able to experience new cultures through sculpture on Wednesday afternoon.

Forest Hill has partnered with TOSS Studio, an arts advocacy studio in Morganton, to create a monthly hands-on opportunity for students to learn about visual arts, different cultures and the environment.

Once a month, all students at Forest Hill gather in the multipurpose room and create a specific form of art. On Wednesday, a total of 254 students from kindergarten to fifth grade participated in the program.

Kathryn Ervin, co-founder and community organizer for TOSS, is one of the key organizers of the monthly collaboration.

The partnership between TOSS and Forest Hill began in 2019 with a program titled “Our Big Backyard.” This project was made possible by the funding, curricular guidance, and staff support of the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Ervin said.

Since then, Ervin and Forest Hill Principal Nikki Costello have expanded the collaboration into an interactive learning experience that allows students to be immersed in different cultures through art.

“Each student at Forest Hill Elementary School has been participating in a series of monthly workshops celebrating visual arts literacy, cultural diversity and environmental awareness,” Ervin said. “This month, students painted clay sculptures, which they made in the previous workshop, inspired by Tonalá Pottery, a symbolic Mexican motif.

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“Next month, students will create a habitat for their clay sculptures. This diagram will be inspired by our regional landscape.”

Ervin started the partnership to help students understand why it’s important to learn about the different cultures, places and people around them.

She believes art is a crucial part of learning for students because it allows people to celebrate who they are and where they come from.

“Art allows students to understand and articulate our past, present and future, celebrate our diverse region and citizenry, and encourage generative thinking alongside civic engagement,” Ervin said. “At TOSS, we envision a growing network of students connected to the resources they need to reach their full potential. These practitioners are the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and creatives revitalizing and sustaining the rural South.”

Philomena Miguel, fifth-grade student at Forest Hill, has enjoyed being able to participate in the program. She has grown to really enjoy art and creating different art pieces.

“We painted our sculptures that we made last month,” Miguel said. “I painted my rabbit sculpture yellow, white, red and blue. I really liked how the colors flowed together on the sculpture.”

Alongside the partnership with Forest Hill, TOSS offers a variety of different programs for members of the community and their families to enjoy.

“Our mission is to foster personal and institutional transformation through arts and community organizing for rural, working class families,” Ervin said. “The studio offers an afterschool art program, workshops for middle and high school students, public art events and other creative initiatives including the newly painted mural on Avery Avenue in Morganton titled “Realidades del Sur.”

For more information on the TOSS collaboration with Forest Hill or to see when programs are available, visit or contact Kathryn Ervin at Kathryn@toss or at 828-448-1734.

Sydni Hall is a staff writer and can be reached at 828-432-8907 or at


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Sydni Hall has been covering education, features and new business for The News Herald since April 2021.

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