Parent Volunteers Bring Art to Edina Elementary Schools
For close to 40 years, elementary students in Edina Public Schools have been on an adventure–make that an Art Adventure—that has introduced them to works of art both classic and contemporary, without ever having to leave their classrooms.
The program was launched in 1973 as Art Masterpiece by two Edina parent volunteers who wanted to expose students to various works of art, modeling their effort on a similar program offered through the Art Institute of Chicago. Countryside and Highlands elementary schools were the first to host Art Masterpiece, and by the following year, several Edina schools began working with staff at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), which lent out print reproductions and provided training sessions to parent volunteers. By 1975, more than 500 students in grades 1-6 in a number of schools were enjoying Art Masterpiece in their classrooms once every month.
Over the years, the program thrived and in 1991, the MIA created a similar curriculum that is now offered in many elementary schools across the state. During the 2007-08 school year, it was determined that the Edina program—now known as Art Adventure—might have to be dropped for budgetary reasons. But a group of committed volunteers stepped in to give it renewed life.
The parent-teacher organizations at the six Edina schools currently offering the program donate some funding for training, but the entire operation, now for students in grades 1-4, is solely parent-driven, with classroom space provided by Edina Public Schools.
“Working with the great volunteers who have a passion to keep Art Adventure going has really made a difference,” says Valerie Burke, the district’s director of community education and community relations.
Jane Tygesson has been involved with the program for about 27 years and now trains current parent volunteers. There are eight Art Adventure presentation cycles in rotation, with titles such as American Art Sampler, Heroes & Heroines and Amazing Animals in Art; classroom volunteers teach about one of seven art objects in the cycle each month.
“Along with introducing different types of art to students, we also focus on ways to make art relevant to other subjects they are already learning about, such as social studies or English,” says Tygesson. “We use visual thinking strategies, focusing on analysis and critical thinking—they are enjoying the art and developing skills at the same time.”
She offers the example of the 205-year-old classic portrait George Washington by Thomas Sully, saying that the classroom volunteer will ask students to pretend they are from a foreign country and simply describe “that man” and talk about every different details of the painting.
“We don’t emphasize dates or titles or artists,” says Tygesson. “We want them to find something in the art that is personal and relevant to them.”
Frannie Kuhs, who experienced Art Masterpiece as a student many years ago, is a longtime volunteer and now coordinator for Art Adventure at Creek Valley.
“What happens in the classroom is not lecture-based, but more of a conversation with students,” she says. “Art Adventure is not just about looking at a pretty picture. It’s all about putting things into context, whether that’s history, geography or another academic subject.”
“In the first-grade classroom I’ve been in, I’ve found that you can have a highly intelligent discussion with students about a piece of art, and they are engaged every single second,” says Countryside parent volunteer Annie Schilling.
In addition to the conversations about art, there is also a hands-on project to reinforce the object students have just seen. Last spring, while teaching her students about carved wooden drums from Papua New Guinea, Schilling had students make kundu drums from [paper towel] rolls, using air-dried clay to create the crocodile figure on top.
Deb Pekarek, who teaches grades one through three in the Continuous Progress Program at Highlands Elementary, is a big fan of Art Adventure.
“Students are exposed to a wonderful variety of art and the culture from which it is created,” says Pekarek. “Immersing ourselves in art allows us not only to explore the actual work but also to appreciate and share how the art impacts us. Seeing the enthusiasm of the students is priceless.”
Each school has its own coordinator, who is responsible for gathering volunteers, facilitating when the art pieces will be available, etc. Every volunteer attends both a classroom training session and a session at the MIA with Tygesson.
Finding volunteers is not a problem; many, like Schilling, discover they learn as much as the kids do by participating in the program.
“You don’t have to have a teaching background or have to be an artist to be an Art Adventure volunteer,” she says. “It’s just a great opportunity to work with the kids. As volunteers, we’re very proud that this program still exists.”
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