Manasco’s program, which is sponsored by the Walker County Arts Alliance, reaches more than 800 fourth graders each year in both the city and county school systems.
The class complements lessons the students receive in Alabama history during the fourth grade. At one time, the state was home to multiple Native American tribes.
“This brings back their Native American heritage, which most of them have even if they only know a little bit about it,” Manasco said.
The pottery class is also one of the few opportunities that students in the county schools have to explore the arts.
Manasco, owner of Dancing Rabbit Studio nestled in the Bankhead National Forest, spends a great deal of time explaining how to make clay turtles, ornaments and miniature pots.
However, if a student asks to deviate from the plan, she encourages his or her creativity.
“I want them to be artists, not just to follow someone’s instructions,” she said.
Manasco knows how much the pottery class means to the children and their families because she often sees their handiwork displayed at local businesses where the parents work.
One troubled teen told a friend of Manasco’s that the pottery class was a highlight of her years in elementary school.
“She said that one of the best things that had ever happened to her was having that pottery class in fourth grade,” Manasco said.
WCAA recently received a $3,000 arts and education grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and National Endowment for the Arts to fund the pottery program in 13 local schools during the spring semester.
The nonprofit also sponsors a creative writing/storytelling class for fifth graders and a music appreciation class for second graders.
Each program reaches approximately 650 county school students each year and costs between $10,000 and $12,000.
WCAA representative Sharon Hogg said the group depends on revenue from memberships and its annual Dinner Theater as well as grant funding to renew the in-school programs each year.