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Educators find new ways to use art in the classroom

  • Priscilla Kane Hellweg from Enchanted Circle Theater and Margaret Bartley from the Donahue School in Holyoke talk about the power of theater to engage students in history.<br/>Photo Courtesy Eric Carle museum.

    Priscilla Kane Hellweg from Enchanted Circle Theater and Margaret Bartley from the Donahue School in Holyoke talk about the power of theater to engage students in history.
    Photo Courtesy Eric Carle museum. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Andrea Neiman, an art teacher from Nassau, New York, presents a unit on an  environmental impact project that included stunning "ropes" made of used clothes.<br/>Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum

    Andrea Neiman, an art teacher from Nassau, New York, presents a unit on an environmental impact project that included stunning "ropes" made of used clothes.
    Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum Purchase photo reprints »

  • Florence children's book illustrator Bob Marstall  teamsup with teacher Kristie Miner from Maine, NY to create a scientific observation project that culminated in book-making and illustrations featuring great details.<br/>Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum.

    Florence children's book illustrator Bob Marstall teamsup with teacher Kristie Miner from Maine, NY to create a scientific observation project that culminated in book-making and illustrations featuring great details.
    Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Education expert Howard Gardner talks about his new book, "Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed" at an event geared to school teachers held at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum last month.<br/>Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum

    Education expert Howard Gardner talks about his new book, "Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed" at an event geared to school teachers held at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum last month.
    Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum Purchase photo reprints »

  • Priscilla Kane Hellweg from Enchanted Circle Theater and Margaret Bartley from the Donahue School in Holyoke talk about the power of theater to engage students in history.<br/>Photo Courtesy Eric Carle museum.
  • Andrea Neiman, an art teacher from Nassau, New York, presents a unit on an  environmental impact project that included stunning "ropes" made of used clothes.<br/>Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum
  • Florence children's book illustrator Bob Marstall  teamsup with teacher Kristie Miner from Maine, NY to create a scientific observation project that culminated in book-making and illustrations featuring great details.<br/>Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum.
  • Education expert Howard Gardner talks about his new book, "Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed" at an event geared to school teachers held at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum last month.<br/>Photo courtesy Eric Carle museum

— Kristie Miner, a literacy teacher at the Whitney Point Central School District in Maine, N.Y., worked with children’s book illustrator Bob Marstall of Florence.

Together, they guided her fourth- and fifth-grade students through lessons about how scientists observe and draw their subjects in great detail. Students then used the drawing skills they gained to create story books about animals.

Art teacher Andrea Neiman of Nassau, N.Y., prompted her students at Columbia High School to understand the effects of consumerism on the environment and the world by getting them to determine the environmental “footprint” of a T-shirt and then helping them learn ways to “repurpose” T-shirts by cutting and sewing them into fashionable garments.

These were just two of the presentations offered at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum last month when educators from around the region became both the teachers and the students at the annual Educators’ Night event. The theme of the sold-out Oct. 17 event was integrating arts into the classroom.

The 162 teachers in the Carle’s large auditorium listened attentively as eight teachers gave brief presentations about introducing music, theater, movie-making, drawing and sewing into their classrooms.

Priscilla Kane Hellweg, executive director at Enchanted Circle Theater, and Margaret Bartley, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke, explained their success in using theater exercises to teach students about immigrants coming to America through Ellis Island.

During the so-called “living history” unit, students picked an early 20th-century persona and then researched and analyzed their character, imagining what it would be like traveling in a crowded ship from Europe, or checking in at Ellis Island.

The fourth- and fifth-graders wrote and performed personal monologues, describing what their characters saw, heard, smelled, thought and felt during the journey. In one exercise, Hellweg said, the students acted out having to pack a small suitcase for the journey, seeing how it felt to choose only the most important items to bring.

Bartley said that the students began to take the projects very seriously. “In the process of slipping into someone else’s shoes, they work hard,” she said.

“Just watching the children really internalize and engage the material is incredible,” she said. “They themselves want to go deeper.”

She said the living history unit on the history of immigration struck a personal note with many students. For 57 percent of Holyoke’s students, English is not their first language, and one of every three students will move within a year, she said.

Enchanted Circle Theater is a Holyoke theater company and arts organization. The group, which has worked with Holyoke public schools for 10 years, specializes in bringing theater arts into classrooms through professional development for teachers or by sending “artists in residence” to schools.

Hellweg said the goal of the professional development is to encourage teachers to step out of the “canned, scripted curriculum.”

Bartley said she has definitely seen the benefits of using theater to teach her curriculum. “Attendance records go up, behavior issues go down,” she said. “Imagine what we’d be able to accomplish if given the opportunity to use arts integration everyday.”

“A jump start”

Rosemary Agoglia, director of education at the museum, said that the annual educators night draws teachers from all over New England, New York and even Pennsylvania. She said the theme of the events is typically arts integration in the classroom.

“Each year we try some new way to try to inspire these teachers,” she said. “Everyone needs a jump start sometimes.”

Kate Nicolaou, a toddler teacher at the Hampshire College Early Learning Center, said she felt enthusiastic about trying adapting some of the arts integration presented to her own classroom.

“I was taking notes, especially about the teachers who worked with young kids,” she said. “I’m excited to bring all this back to the teachers.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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