SchoolArts Magazine

September 2017

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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Page 24 of 58

20 SEPTEMBER 2017 SchoolArts T he biggest and riskiest project I ever attempted in my thirty years as an elementary art teacher was the Learning Tree. It was also the last project I would tackle in the Lamphere School Dis- trict. And, surprisingly, as the project neared its conclusion, I gained a pro- found insight and realization of my core belief about teaching art. Nature Venue The Learning Tree was the final piece of a multi-year developing project at Lessenger Elementary that transformed an unused weedy courtyard into a vibrant nature center/art garden. This ever-changing space provided a unique, highly visible outdoor venue to display elementary student art. As students fed and cared for a goldfish pond, a school rabbit, and bird and squirrel feeders, they interacted daily with the natural world interspersed with their art. Let's Make a Tree House A large maple tree grows back in the unused east portion of the school courtyard. For years we were perplexed at how this area could be developed into an outdoor yet practical class - room-type area. The answer didn't come until I turned the dilemma over to students, as an art lesson. "How would you envision a unique outside learning area around the maple tree?," was the question I presented to Lessenger's K–5 students. After draw - ing the maple tree on white paper, they constructed their ideas using cut "board sections" from a roll of wood-patterned contact paper. It was a fourth-grade student's solution that sparked a yearlong project when she exclaimed, "Let's make a tree house!" While making a tree house large enough to seat an entire class was impracticable, lowering the "tree house" near the ground as a series of raised decks was. Funding the Learning Tree The two years after I retired, I worked at Lessenger part-time through an artist residency grant awarded by the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. We applied for a third year, knowing the resi- dency grant would not cover capital improvements—we would need to raise the $6,500 on our own. For our Learning Tree to happen, we went ahead and applied. We were awarded the grant, which covered my fees. Beyond belief, we raised the neces- sary funds in less than five months! Roughly 25 percent was raised through student art, 25 percent through service Craig Hinshaw group donations, 10 percent through a GoFundMe page, and the rest through two large individual donations. An unexpected ace-in-the-hole was that two of my students' fathers were man - agers at Home Depot and volunteered to help in designing the Learning Tree and providing a generous discount. Building the Outdoor Classroom My plan was to work with parent vol- unteers in building the Learning Tree, but, realizing our vision could happen, the school district's building/main - tenance department stepped in. They recommended that the tree be profes - sionally built and hired the contractors and paid for the construction. Students and staff watched as the Learning Tree began to take shape before the snow had even melted. The Learning Tree was made large This ever-changing nature garden provided a unique, highl isible outdoor venue to displa elementar student art.

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