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The City Journals

Art enhances academics at Westbrook Elementary

May 03, 2019 10:41AM ● By Jet Burnham

Dominic Jolley learned techniques in clay and glaze to make a ceramic bat. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Exploring academic subjects through art expression enhances student learning, believes Crista Holt, principal at Westbrook Elementary.

“It helps kids be creative and open up that other side of thinking,” said Holt. “Expressing through art helps them make connections to some of that content.”

Students work with Beverly Taylor Sorenson Program Art Specialist Kirsten Schiel twice a month. Schiel collaborates with teachers to enhance core content with art projects that introduce students to various forms of art.

Fifth-graders, who have been studying the colonial period of American history, painted a picture of a time-period house, complete with detailed ink illustrations of the interior. Schiel said, in addition to paint and ink techniques, the fifth-graders learned about architectural design and had an opportunity to consider, in detail, what everyday life for the colonists must have been like.

After discussing the animal adaptations, fifth-grade students created their own species of bat out of clay. Schiel said because there are more than 1,000 types of bats, students could choose from a variety of noses, mouths, teeth, ears and feet depending on the habitat their bat lives in and what it eats.

Dominic Jolley said the ceramic bat project was one of his favorites this year.

“With the clay bats, you could move it with your hands and sculpt it the way you wanted to,” he said.

Shiel tasked fifth-graders with describing a line, the first element of art on which everything else is based on. They struggled to express their thoughts on such a basic element and gained practice in verbal expression and the breakdown of complex concepts.

As fourth-grade students studied the geography of Utah, Schiel introduced them to the Spiral Jetty, by Robert Smithson, an example of a large-scope outdoor art piece built on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

Fourth-graders also made collages of their favorite things. Schiel said collage is a difficult medium because there must be a balance between simplicity and detail.

“It is great practice in learning to see the different shapes that make up objects around us,” she said.

For third-graders studying styles of literature, Schiel expanded their experience to include writing their own folktale and illustrating one of its characters.

Cordelia Cabrera, a third-grader, wrote a folktale about a robot. Her accompanying folk art was designed in pencil, traced over with marker and filled in with colored pencil.

Combining the art project with a language arts aspect appealed to students who responded with more enthusiasm to the writing assignment, said Holt.

“Kids have more buy-in,” she said. “They’re super excited to write about what they created.”

During their unit on animal camouflage, third-graders studied the details and patterns of animals’ fur and feathers. In art class, they highlighted these features in colorful, detailed art pieces. They also explored color theory and its application in everyday purposes such as fashion, interior design and advertising.

Second-graders explored symmetry by painting butterflies ,and first-graders created a collaborative mural as they learned about community.

As kindergartners learned about seasons and discussed changes occurring as spring emerges, Schiel taught them to make their own stamps. Students drew their favorite sign of spring on compression paper, which made a relief print that they covered with marker to stamp onto paper for the final piece.

Schiel said lower-grade students are always excited for art. Younger students are confident in what they create and don’t compare their work to others, she said.

“When they get to the older grades, it’s almost the exact opposite,” said Schiel. “Especially in fifth and sixth grade, it can be really hard to get those kids to feel confident and comfortable doing their art because they’re so afraid of what their peers think.”

Schiel believes instilling “bravery to create” is one of the most important aspects of her job.

“I think a big part of elementary education is trying to harness that individuality and teach kids that’s what makes their art really special,” said Schiel.

Leeann Burnett said her fifth-grade daughter Peyton loves art. She is grateful for access to an art specialist who provides art experiences for students.

“I think it’s sad that a lot of schools don’t have art or have a specialist because I think they’re missing out,” said Burnett.

Students showed off their work to parents at Art Night, held two evenings in March. Art Night also included a performance by Westbrook Singing Sensations, the school choir.