When she’s talking to her fellow teachers in the lunchroom, Gail Wagner is not just making conversation.
The art teacher at Holy Trinity and St. Rita schools in Webster often is trolling for project ideas, trying to find out what her students are doing in their other classes so she can incorporate those themes into their art.
Learning in several different media can help reinforce what students learn in their classes, Wagner said. That’s why she and other art teachers in diocesan Catholic schools are trying to bring many different disciplines into art class.
Before making their own hieroglyphic-covered clay mummies, for example, Wagner’s sixth-graders took a history-filled field trip to Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery to see a mummy exhibit. And students in the lower grades learned fractions by working on projects using folded paper.
“You can even integrate art and math,” Wagner remarked. “It’s reinforced so much more.”
Wagner also keeps up on what letters and colors her kindergartners are studying.
“They’ll say ‘We’re studying the letter "O,"’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, good. We’re making ostriches,’" Wagner said.
Wagner also has turned to technology to create a cyberspace art gallery showcasing the works of Holy Trinity students. Not only does the school’s Web site expose student work to more viewers, it also serves as good publicity for the school, she said.
Having art online allows students to more easily show off their creations to their families anytime. Often, she said, students take home portfolios of their artwork at the end of the year.
“I do tell the kids that it’s on the Web site and they can go look at it,” Wagner said.
Penny Dessena, the educational-technology coordinator at St. Ann School in Hornell, also combines computers and art to stretch the boundaries of student projects. This year, Dessena said, students are creating a clay-animation movie. Students will write the script in Spanish, create the clay figures and sets in art class, and will use computers to splice hundreds of digital pictures together, creating the movie.
“They’ll put it together as you might create a flipbook,” Dessena said.
Although the finished product may only be several minutes long, the project will take weeks, she predicts, and at the end, students will have created a movie that’s about 10 minutes long.
Dessena said she then looks for ways to incorporate art into student projects. For example, around Christmastime she jazzed up a Microsoft Word lesson by having eighth-graders write letters to troops serving in Iraq. To teach them a new skill, she had them add pictures created in the imaging software Kid Pix.
Second-graders used Kid Pix to illustrate a word from their spelling list, which Dessena put into a Microsoft PowerPoint slideshow.
“They got a kick out of that, and their parents could see it at home, too,” Dessena said.
St. Lawrence School in Greece soon will receive national recognition for its interdisciplinary arts program, Creative Kids, where about 80 students work on all aspects of a musical together. The school was recognized as a School of the Month and highlighted in the January/February issue of Today’s Catholic Teacher magazine. The school was selected for the honor by the National Catholic Educational Association, which called for schools to submit details of their creative programs that strengthen Catholicity and faith.
The idea for Creative Kids came from a brainstorming session with Principal Joseph Holleran, Art Teacher Carole Prymuszewski, Music teacher Susan Judkins, Administrative Assistant Mary Kay Huber, Educational Technology Coordinator Margaret Henning, and Intermediate Teachers Lyn Lathrop, Mary Lasch and Eloise Martin.
Holleran said the musical requires months of work by staff and students.
In the first semester, students in fifth and sixth grades are put into mixed groups and rotated through special arts, music, speech and drama workshops, while fourth-graders receive an introduction to drama and drama games. During the second semester students begin working on a Scripture-based musical penned by Holleran. The theme of the play also is incorporated into the sixth-grade retreat and the school’s weekly prayer gatherings
This year’s play about the Blessed Trinity, "Three in One, One in Three: The Divinity Code," will be presented to other local schools at 10:30 a.m. May 8 and to the community at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. May 9.
For a future musical, Holleran said he’s like to write a story of the modern-day Shepherd family, juxtaposed with the biblical shepherds.
“It usually takes a couple months to generate ideas,” he said.
Although the role of bard is a relatively new one for him, Holleran said it’s worth it to help students bring Scripture to life for others.
“Kids love performing before other kids,” he said.