SchoolArts Magazine

DEC 2018

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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32 DECEMBER 2018 SchoolArts R ecently, I organized an after- school art club around imple- menting service-learning projects i n our community. Service-learn- ing is a style of participatory learn- ing that encourages students to meet c ommunity needs through organized projects that simultaneously promote student and community development. Our school district includes a significant number of low-income families and some of our students face daily struggles due to hunger, neglect, and family alcoholism and drug abuse. My aim in starting the after- school art club is to make a lasting change in our school's art department by addressing these issues through arts-based community service proj- ects that empower students to assume and value civic responsibility. Civic Responsibility During our first club meeting, we dis- cussed problems that our school and c ommunity face, along with poten- tial art project solutions. Students r ecorded their ideas on sticky notes, and we grouped ideas on the white- board to visualize common themes. S tudents showed they were well aware of concerns in our school and com- munity, noting problems that overlap i n both categories. The clarity of students' observations surprised me, but their ideas for responding to these problems were even more impressive. After our discussion, I prompted students to think about how we could use arts-based service projects to address some of their concerns. In response, students offered project ideas that I never considered. They proved to me that young people do care about the well-being of their communities, and they have valid and insightful beliefs about how to make changes. Service-Learning Projects Students completed two service- learning projects during our fifteen weeks together. Orphans of the Storm is a local nonprofit no-kill animal shelter. Students worked over a three- month period to create care packages to be sent home with newly adopted animals. They cut up and braided old t-shirts to make dog rope toys; filled sandwich bags with dog treats; sculpted, bisque-fired, and glazed food and water dishes; and decorated paper bags with fun adoption messages. Students also partnered with our local mayor and councilor to paint downtown vacant storefront windows. Our borough's councilor hoped that the painted windows would help dress up the street and draw attention to the vacancy signs in the windows. Students brainstormed ideas for the windows and also created templates for their design. Over the course of three after- school painting sessions, students com - pleted two storefront windows with a p atriotic theme for Memorial Day. Building Relationships When students first entered my art- room for the club meetings, they chose t o sit in groups with their friends. There wasn't much interaction ini- tially between these groups. Before the a bove service-learning projects began, I asked students to complete a brief survey. When asked about their feel - ings towards classmates, nearly half o f them responded with some kind of negative comment about other students in the club. Many senior-high students wrote comments about the immaturity and loudness of junior-high students. Fast-forward to our last art club meeting. After fifteen weeks together, I asked students to reflect on their experiences. All but two students reported that the club helped them gain new friendships. Some wrote that the club helped them overcome social anxiety, while others expressed grati - tude for the opportunity to connect w ith peers in different grade levels. The most rewarding part of facili- tating this club was seeing the junior- h igh and senior-high groups growing together and slowly feeling comfortable enough to intermingle. Shared respon - sibilities through the projects offered t hem the opportunity to explore their leadership skills as a team. Recommendations I recommend arts-based service-learn- ing programming to any secondary art t eacher or activities coordinator in an impoverished rural area. The art club in our district has fueled students' interest in serving their community and has raised their awareness of the Melissa Hoener M I D D L E S C H O O L Young people do care about the well-being of their communities, and the ave valid and insightful beliefs about how to make changes. COMMUNITY TRANSFORMATIONS

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