IT'S NOT POSSIBLE TO SEE the forest for the trees.
Or the reflection
for the water.
that’s what a group of fifth-graders learning the art of thought
discovered during a recent trip to the Amon Carter Museum’s Downtown
Gallery in Fort Worth.
distance the reflection is crisp, but up close you can’t see it
at all,” 11-year-old Brittany Thomas said to her teacher as they
looked at William T. Ranney’s Marion Crossing the Pedee.
the artist wants us to think about that,” she said.
did. For more than 10 minutes, the students discussed the idea of
perspective, how it is used in art and its philosophical translation
into everyday life.
and her classmates are participating in one of two key programs
that UNT’s School of Visual Arts and its North Texas Institute for
Educators on the Visual Arts are conducting in an effort to reform
education and elevate the arts in Texas.
program is a partnership of UNT and six Metroplex schools with five
national sites and 30 other schools for a five-year, $15 million
national education reform initiative — Transforming Education Through
the Arts Challenge. The program is funded primarily by the Walter
H. Annenberg Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust.
program — UNT’s Marcus Fellows program — which is funded by the
Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation, prepares today’s graduate students
to be tomorrow’s art education leaders.
36 schools from urban, suburban and rural areas of eight states
— California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee
and Texas — were selected to participate in the Challenge program.
Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts heads the program
in Texas. Six schools are partners with UNT — Mitchell Elementary
in Plano, Shady Brook Elementary in Bedford, and Oakhurst Elementary,
Greenbriar Elementary, North Hi Mount Elementary and E.M. Daggett
Middle School in Fort Worth.
last four years, UNT’s partner schools have found that using art
as part of their lessons in English, math, social studies and science
has increased the students’ interest and retention, as well as standardized
the arts speak to children in a language that demonstrates concepts,
reveals symbols and forges connections.
what is being communicated by art, viewers have to synthesize information
and think critically.
(’80), Brittany’s fifth-grade teacher at Greenbriar Elementary,
says she was skeptical at first.
started this, I didn’t know how art could help me teach,” she says.
“Now I wouldn’t go back for anything. The art makes a subject tangible,
and the kids love to learn about it.”
(’96 M.A.), who teaches language arts and English as a second language
to fifth- graders at Oakhurst Elementary, agrees.
when Smith’s students were having a hard time understanding prepositions,
she decided to use a painting during the lesson.
brought out the painting and asked the students to describe the
position of objects relative to each other,” she says, “I immediately
got a response.”
were eagerly shouting sentences out — “The monkey is on her shoulder”
— and within minutes they could each identify which word in the
sentence was the preposition, Smith says.
didn’t stop there.The students began to discuss the painting itself,
interpreting and analyzing the artist’s ideas as revealed in the
work and thinking critically.
All 46 teachers
at Oakhurst use art in the classroom in some way, and every student
in the school visits an art museum as part of a lesson every year.
Principal Jana Marbut-Ray says adding comprehensive art education
to the curriculum has made a tremendous difference in her school.
are excited about teaching in a way I’ve never seen,” she says.
Oakhurst began participating in the Challenge. The school’s majority
population — Hispanic students who are learning English as a second
language — was performing poorly in all subjects on the Texas Assessment
of Academic Skills tests. In fact, Oakhurst was ranked a low-performing
school by the state of Texas.
first year of the Challenge, the Hispanic students’ average TAAS
writing score was 34.8 percent — below the state’s minimum average.
The entire student body’s average score was only 43 percent.
after one year of using art in the classroom, the writing score
for Hispanic students jumped to 60 percent, while the entire student
body’s score shot up to 68 percent. In 1998, the scores were 100
percent and 98 percent respectively.
were the result of a total school reform effort. The school implemented
a tutoring program and revamped its bilingual education program.
But Marbut-Ray says adding art to the curriculum made the most visible,
to ensure the schools were able to successfully implement a comprehensive
art program, UNT assigned a local museum educator and a mentor from
the institute to each school’s site-based management team.
of the UNT institute and Libby Cluett from the Amon Carter Museum
were assigned to Oakhurst.
first year, the team developed writing lessons that centered on
narrative paintings at the Amon Carter.
with the lessons, Cluett says she designed each museum visit to
coincide with what the teacher had been doing in class, thus making
the museum an extension of the classroom rather than a field trip
As a museum
educator, Cluett spends most of her days working with teachers and
students who visit the museum.
the partner school students are different.
are here, they already know how to read a painting, and they discuss
freely, often taking much longer than most students usually do,”
she says. “It’s thrilling to see students understanding and using
art to its full potential.”
also says working with the partner schools helps her better serve
the other students who visit.
I’ve been part of a school’s internal meetings and have seen exactly
what they are facing, I’m more able to make what I do with all students
more relevant,” she says.
the resources of museums with classroom needs is a key part of the
Marcus Fellows program.
intense 12-month period, each class of five fellows spends time
learning how to collaborate, use technology and effectively integrate
art into school curricula.
(’97 M.A.), education coordinator for the Crow Collection of Asian
Art in Dallas, says her training as a Marcus Fellow prepared her
perfectly for her job.
of the program is to train people who can effectively make art an
accessible and important part of Texas’ communities, so we were
trained in ways to do that,” Lewis says.
of my job is to make the art of Asia approachable and comprehensible
to all of the museum’s audiences,” she says.
Lewis and her Marcus Fellow colleagues, who are doing similar work
in museums and schools around the state, serve as leaders in the
community, teaching others how to integrate art into curriculum.
the Marcus Foundation’s intent when it funded the program that began
to create a critical mass of highly skilled educators who could
serve as a resource to parent groups and other groups concerned
with bringing quality education to the schools,” says Melba Whatley,
chair of the foundation board.
academic year ends next August, there will be 30 Marcus Fellows
in Texas’ schools and museums, working to weave art back into the
fabric of society.
principals and hundreds of teachers welcome the support.
marginalizing the arts, and we even tried to delete them completely,
but the most effective teaching and learning I’ve seen has happened
by integrating the arts,” says Marbut- Ray.