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Thursday, September 12,2013

Arts integration in the classroom sparks student interest

By Lindsay Boyle

Athens is an art-filled town, and the same can be said for its schools.

Theresa House has been teaching art at East and West elementary schools for 12 years, but last year - when the art teacher from Chauncey started working at West - was the first time she taught arts integration courses at both.

During the lessons, House acts as a guest teacher in science, social studies and other classes, using various art forms to help teach the subject matter - all tied to the standard curriculum - in a different way. In addition to her regular art courses at East, this year House spends one day per grade teaching integration sessions at East, and also teaches them at West based on who signs up.

"By bringing the arts into the science project, or into the social studies project, you're reaching more of the different parts of the kids' brains," she said.

In second grade, the kids spread shaving cream around to visualize and learn different cloud types. In fourth grade, students combined the history of the Underground Railroad with the fractions of fabric cutting and some language arts skills to design a freedom quilt. Those are just some of many examples.

"Feedback is always really positive from kids and teachers," House said. "I had to turn people down last year because I wasn't able to meet the need as much as they wanted me to be in their classrooms."

House said she'd love to eventually see more people working on the program and to see it reach all Athens City School District elementary schools.

"You can use [art] to help you in so many ways: to learn about new material, to figure out how to express yourself, to find your place in the world," House said. "My main vision for the whole thing is that kids walk away realizing that art is an important part of life."

The Athens Middle School is active, too. According to art teacher Dana Dieterle, art is required for both seventh and eighth grade, but eighth graders can get into advanced art if they show high skill and good work ethic.

Students, she explained, are exposed to specific time periods in art history, use science to understand how some materials and techniques work, and incorporate math skills while planning and executing projects ranging from paintings, to drawings, to sculptures.

At the end of this school year, Dieterle said, the advanced art class will put on the fourth annual Trashion Fashion show for their peers, in which garments are created from trash and other untraditional materials.

Additionally, in March the Athens Public Library will display art made by students of both grade levels. Last year, students' art was also displayed during the Athens Nuit Blanche festival, which Dieterle said she hopes will happen again.

"Art class is beneficial to students because it encourages them to take intangible things, such as ideas, experiences, and feelings, and use them to create a tangible piece of artwork," Dieterle said. "This is a skill that takes reflection, planning, and execution."

At Federal Hocking Middle and High schools, art regularly goes beyond the walls of the school.

Ellen Hadley, the 7th - 12th grade art teacher, explained that the high school offers intro, advanced and studio art courses, and, for the first time ever, a spring ceramics course. In addition to attending regular art classes, middle school students can spend half of their hour-long lunch at an open studio Hadley holds every three weeks. There's also an active high school art club.

"We need, to be well-rounded people, to be creative and express ourselves, our emotions, our feelings about the world in different ways," she said. "Visually, there's a way to connect with anybody - we don't have to speak the same language."

Each year, Hadley explained, students hold three art shows at the school. On a more regular basis, art club students participate in lock-ins, staying after school working on projects, watching movies and spending the night. Students at all levels, Hadley said, frequently volunteer in the community, running crafts areas and other activities at the Nelsonville Music Festival, Stuart's Opera House, pre-schools, Passion Works, Ratha Con - the comic book convention at the Athens Community Center, and more.

"I try to be creative about getting other people involved and coming into my room, artists working with my kids, and my kids connecting with the community," Hadley said. “We don’t always have much money,” Hadley said. “I know that the people who run this place and my community really value the arts. They have bent over backwards to keep it in our school.”


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