Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in McDowell County participated in an artist residency last week with an actor and playwright who taught students creativity can be used in any facet of life or school.

Mike Wiley and Howard Craft travel throughout the state with the help of the N.C. Arts Council cARTwheels program, which provides “high quality stage performances and residency experiences to students,” and include a teacher’s workshop, live performances, residency activities and writing activities, to name a few.

“Mr. Craft and I go around to classrooms and instruct on drama, African-American history, writing skills and just immersing the kids for an hour or two,” said Wiley. “I enjoy watching the creativity come alive, watching the light bulb go on in their head.”

During their week’s residency at McDowell County Schools, Wiley acts out parts of his solo plays, engaging students and teachers to portray characters. Wiley works with the students on warm-up exercises.

“We focus on how to use theater and drama to focus on the work they are doing, whether it’s something dramatic or math or science,” said Wiley. “Using those skills to come into the classroom ready to learn and ready to immerse themselves into whatever task their teacher has for them, but also an intro to writing and presenting information in front of everyone else.”

Then Craft, a playwright and author, helps the students research and write about themselves, which he says opens them up to learning about the writing process and having fun.

“I have taught creative reading to children since 2000, and what I have found is everyone likes to write about themselves, or talk about themselves,” said Craft. “It makes them think of writing in a different way and it tends to open it up to other types of writing in the classroom.”

Once the students have completed their writing activity, they get the chance to read it in front of everyone. For students at West Marion Elementary, they wrote down their favorite foods, what they like to do, where they live, and if they could be anything else in the world.

One student said, “I would be a mermacon—it’s a mix between a mermaid and a unicorn.”

Another student offered a piece of advice that a got a few laughs from his peers:” If you’re not crashing, you’re not going fast enough.”

Wiley and Craft work to teach students about history, but to also write and tell their own stories and above all—to have fun.

“I go all over the state,” said Craft, “And what I’ve realized is that it doesn’t matter if I’m in inner city schools or rural North Carolina, kids are the same. They come with big open hearts and you have to meet them where they are and be patient with them.”

To learn more about Wiley or Craft, or the cARTwheels program, visit, or

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