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"Art Rocks the School"


Madeline Taylor looked at the group of students preparing to pirouette across the gym floor. Pointing to one boy, she remarked how he gets in trouble nearly every day. But on A.R.T.S.  Day, not one child requires discipline, not one child ever asks to go to the nurse, complaining of a stomachache or other school-phobic related illness.  And the halls are quiet.

A.R.T.S Day or "Art Rocks The School" invites guest artists into school for the morning where they share their talents with the students; engaging about 450 third, fourth, and fifth graders. The Brainstorm, created by Taylor, a 12-year Pine Crest veteran who teaches English As a Second Language (ESOL), celebrated its 4th year at Pine Crest Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland this week.

Taylor, an artist herself, makes jewelry from bottle caps, creates books using collage materials, and dabbles in numerous other art projects. She teaches her non- English speaking students using the arts.  She's passionate about the role of arts in all education. "Just like kids need to have good nutrition on a daily basis, they need to have a daily serving of the arts," she said.

Inspired by "The Big Draw," a community art celebration originated in the United Kingdom and spreading throughout US cities, Taylor wanted to expose students to artists and mediums they are not usually exposed to in school. Furthermore, as school budgets continue to reduce art teaching budgets; Pine Crest has two part-time teachers: one three days a week, another one half day; the students have less time in art class.

"Research shows that the arts improve academic performance, develop critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication, teamwork, and more," she said, noting how her own students become more self-confident speaking English when engaged in an art project than if they're just trying to read or do grammar worksheets.

It took Taylor two years to convince her principal to sponsor A.R.T.S Day. "It was a hard sell. At first, I was told it had nothing to do with teaching ESOL."  With the support of the art teachers, and then the other building staff, who began calling it "Madeline's idea" and conceived ways to connect the project with the school's long-term planning goals, tie it into state and national education standards, and even test preparation, Taylor's dream became a reality.

She attends art shows and galleries, scans the newspapers and websites, seeking  between 25-30 artists who agree to volunteer their time for the morning, each seeing three groups of about 15 to 20 students.  Artists, representing studio and performing arts, come from the Virginia-Maryland- District of Columbia community and many have returned every year. Artists include jewelry makers, printers, photographers, paper sculptors, dancers, drummers, actors, fiber workers, potters, florists, and more.

Every student is randomly assigned to visit three artists. The grades are mixed together and students don't know who they'll see until they arrive at school the morning of A.R.T.S. Day.  "I want them to be surprised, and open to trying something new," Taylor said, adding how many of the boys at first complain about ballet and then spend the entire day talking about the positions and how weight lifting and football complement ballet.

While many of the artists bring their own materials and donate supplies, some ask Taylor to obtain what they need or want reimbursement. Taylor applied for a grant the first year and subsequently received funding from the school's PTA and donations from many parents. The principal initiated the sale of school logo car magnets, designating the proceeds for A.R.T.S Day, which costs about $600 a year.

Students write thank you notes to the visiting artists and to Taylor, where they express what A.R.T.S.  Day means to them:

"Everything you draw has meaning to someone." - Walee, 5th grade

"I learned that in art nobody can tell you  'you did it wrong or your art's no good, because your art looks the way you want it to look.'" - Daniel, 4th grade

"I learned that in art you can always have your style." Jason, 4th grade

"Everyone has different ideas about what art is and that's ok." Charlie, 4th grade

Bullying & Books


Imagine this conversation: "What did you do in school today?" "Reading, gym, Spanish, bullying."  

Anti-bullying is the latest curriculum addition, becoming mandated in school districts around the country.

Everyone grows up being bullied in some way. Teased about clothing, looks, speech, ethnicity, you name it.  Many believe it's a rite of passage, a part of growing up that kids need to deal with themselves, often considered character building.

That was until the Internet replaced the playground as the venue for bullies to flaunt their taunts. Cyberbullying, the harassment through social networking, instant messaging and texting via cell phones, exploded, and has been linked to many teenage suicides.

October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month.  I imagine superintendents and principals are sending memos to staff, requesting that lesson plans indicate how bullying will be addressed. Teachers are trying to figure out how to incorporate bullying into their already packed curriculums.  On top of juggling differentiated instruction, increased class size, non-English speakers, and of course, test preparation, they're grasping for materials to bring bullies to bulletin boards.

Meanwhile publishers and consultants are having a field day. Like the no smoking and anti-drug campaigns of old, bullying birthed a barrage of books, programs, and ready-made scripts for teachers to buy, often with their own money, to satisfy new curriculum demands.

I wish I could tell every teacher who opts to purchase anti-bullying products to turn to literature instead.  Scan the school and town libraries for titles that deal with bullying, often without mentioning the word.  Teach tolerance through fairy tales; discuss characters and motivation, problems and solutions.

I asked a librarian from a local college for resources and she sent me four pages. My local town library prepared a bully bibliography, "Bullies are a Pain in the Brain," a list of fiction and non-fiction books in the collection.

Literature creates empathy in ways pre-packaged, ready-made materials won't. I recently saw a production of Shakespeare's Othello. Is there any better example of a bully than Iago?  Imagine the discussions in high school, comparing Iago to current day villains, dissecting what makes someone evil and how to respond.

Reading won't in itself diminish bullying. In no way do I propose that schools ignore how the abuse of technology transmits rumors and torments children.  Weave bullying discussions into curriculums - bullies in history and literature provide ample places to begin.

Here's a small sampling:

Picture Books: A librarian I know calls them "Everyone" books; they're not just for little kids.
Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bootner
Willy the Champ by Anthony Browne
Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie DePaola
Goggles by Ezra Jack Keats
Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester
The Ant Bully by John Nickle
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
Middle Grades:
 by Judy Blume
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis R. Naylor
Joshua T. Bates In Trouble Again 
by Susan Shreve
Attack of the Killer Fishsticks by Paul Zindel
Young Adult: As a former 8th grade teacher, I loved that there were books written for teen readers.  Authors for young adults have addressed bullying for decades.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Tangerine by Edward Blor
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier 
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
The Skin I'm In
 by Sharon Flake
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Shooter by Walter Dean Myers
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
First Test by Tamora Pierce
All the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling

For more titles and authors: www.librarything.com/tag/bullying and other searches. And be sure to ask your favorite librarian.  (my town library, Summit, NJ).

What do Huck Finn, Jem Finch, and Harry Potter have in common?
They're three teenage boys in books that have been banned or challenged.
It's Banned Book Week, the American Library Association's annual recognition of censorship of printed material, particularly books in public schools and town libraries.
We Americans like to think that censorship happens elsewhere, in regimes that don't tolerate freedom of expression.
Think again.  Attempts to control national reading trace back to the Civil War and continue to present day.
Who are the censors? Anyone with enough clout to be heard. Parents, school boards, editors, publishers, politicians and government officials. Anyone who feels that a particular book threatens their beliefs and lifestyles; anyone who objects to what they deem incendiary. 
Not all challenges lead to banning, but many do. Among the reasons: profanity, witchcraft, violence, sex, defiance of authority, science fiction and fantasy.
Then there's Tango, the penguin. Abandoned as an egg by his mother, New York City's Central Park Zookeepers gave the egg to a pair of male Chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo to hatch and raise.  The 2005 picture book, And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell  and Justin Richardson, chronicles their story, and has been ALA's top challenged book for five years. 
In an age where we worry that people aren't reading more than a text message or a tweet, where bookstores are closing one after another, what could be more important than promoting the freedom to read?
I credit my own growth as a reader to the books my friends and I surreptitiously passed to each other under the desks in 7th grade social studies class.  I still remember those titles, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, a censored perennial, among them.
As a teacher, I encouraged free choice in reading and taught a "Banned Book Week" unit.  As a parent, I allowed total freedom of choice in reading, even as I cringed when my very young sons insisted I read the adventures of He-Man and She-Ra in the Masters of the Universe series endlessly.  My daughter only wanted picture books about dogs.    A friend of mine's daughter only read books with the word "cat" in the title.  These children, all adults now, became avid readers, consuming titles across genres.
While browsing in a bookstore in Manhattan, I overheard a woman lament to her friend, "My grandchildren don't know  from libraries; my daughter just orders books for them."   Too bad for those kids. They won't experience the joy of browsing, of discovering a book or author or subject they might never learn about.
The next day, I received a huge box of children's' books from my graduate school mentor as gifts for my grandchildren. He wrote: "I hope your grandkids grow up reading real books."
Judy Blume, author of many books for young readers and herself subject to censorship, wrote:  "What I worry about most is the loss to young people. If no one speaks out for them, if they don't speak out for themselves, all they get for required reading will be the most bland books available. And instead of finding the information they need at the library, instead of finding the novels that illuminate life, they will find only those materials to which nobody could possibly object." (Editor: Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers Simon & Schuster, 1999.)
To raise readers, protect the freedom to read. 

About Me

Lisa Winkler was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continues to write for professional journals. She has written several study guides for Penguin Books and writes for Education Update, a newspaper based...Read More

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