By DENISE SEYFER
This year, Mount Mary College students in art education and art therapy are gaining field experience by teaching students at Milwaukee German Immersion School art using different media. They are also showing teachers how to integrate those same skills into their content area curriculum.
“Art students at Mount Mary need to work with kids, while our kids need the teaching of art,” said Abbey Finch, parent coordinator who spearheaded this effort last spring. “We can help each other.”
German Immersion School of the Milwaukee Public Schools has been without a professional art teacher for about four years. Rather than sitting back and praying for change or fighting a school system that continually finds itself cutting budgets and teacher positions, the parents in the school acted by contacting Mount Mary’s art department to ask for help.
“Some teachers are doing art in their classrooms but we want all students to have specialized art education from someone who really knows the curriculum,” Finch said.
Debra Heermans, fine arts department chair at Mount Mary, envisioned a program that was more interdisciplinary and valuable not just for the children, but also for the teachers. An innovative, new program was developed to engage the German Immersion students to include art curriculum within content areas such as social studies, language arts, math and science.
Now, the students are creating sculptures for their Kinderfest, a German celebration of children, to be held May 24.
“My art methods students learn that projects are great, but the important thing for the child is the process that they go through,” Heermans said. “The process engages innovation, creative thinking and problem solving, as well as team building.”
The challenges to maintain the art program are plentiful. Not everyone was on board initially. The time factor challenges teachers. There is not a lot of time in their day to spend on such a large-scale project when they must meet increased state academic standards and benchmarks.
“One thing I felt strongly about was that the teachers needed to take ownership,” Heermans said. “We weren’t just coming in and giving them a token experience. They need to engage in the process.”
Another challenge to creating such a program in schools is that some teachers might dislike having businesses or other agencies doing “free” programs in schools. It could threaten their job security. As a consequence, some schools may choose to not have a professional art teacher in their building.
The value of having an art professional on staff is twofold. Art teachers are able to get to know the students throughout their academic years and build upon their skills year after year. Further, the children grow more familiar and feel safer in risk-taking when expressing themselves artistically, which is a skill many businesses need from adults.
Secondly, on-staff art teachers, versus grade level teachers who teach art, might come with a stronger art background. They are equipped to communicate not just what the students are making, but also why they are making the project, Heermans said.
Cara Lotegeluaki, a parent from German Immersion School, said she would like to see the partnership grow in coming years.
“Art is important for little kids. There’s no right or wrong,” Lotegeluaki said. “In other classes, there is a right way and a wrong way. Here, they can be creative and not hold back.”