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Spelling - and art. History - and art.

(Page 2 of 2)



A second-grade class studying the history of the Southwestern United States ponders a diorama depicting a native ceremony indigenous to that area. In third grade, social-studies students talk about the way in which knowledge passes from one generation to another as they study a painting called "The Banjo Lesson," in which a young boy takes instruction from an older man.

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But the spelling-sculpture conjunction in Megan's class is perhaps the most creative connection of art to academics. Chris Knoell, the teacher, says the kids used to groan when he passed out a new list of words for them to learn each week. Hoping to turn that reluctance around, he began pairing each spelling list with a piece of sculpture the class would study. The lesson would include a letter written to the sculptor or the sculpture itself, asking questions or making comments about the work of art.

Suddenly the kids began to look forward to the class.

Mr. Knoell admits he was initially a bit skeptical about the whole notion of DBAE. "I was afraid it was just going to turn into another add-on and our day is already short enough," he explains. Seeing the program in action changed his mind. "The integration part has been the biggest seller for me," he says.

Knoell says he likes the "mix of lots of different skills and concepts" that results from weaving art into other disciplines. Also, he says, adding art to the mix, "catches [the students'] interest." When a concept from another discipline is combined with art, he notes, "the kids get a better understanding of it."

One of the challenges faced by a program like this one, however, is accountability. Kenwood principal Pat Zeimet readily acknowledges that claims for the success of the program are not yet buttressed by test scores or hard numbers of any sort. "It's more just teacher observation and anecdotal information up to this point," she says.

Mrs. Zeimet and others hope that help is on its way in this area. Getty and Annenberg have a hired a professional testing service that will begin a three-year study of students at Kenwood and other of the 35 schools involved in the program, to record the gains connected to their study of art.

Our parents, the art boosters

Meanwhile, however, local parents have jumped enthusiastically on the bandwagon. Although many area families were not typical arts boosters - the school is located in a working-class neighborhood with almost half of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch -they have come to appreciate the involvement with art their children are experiencing.

"The parents understand that in today's society you've got to do things differently and that you need creativity," says Tim Shada, president of the local parent-teacher organization and father of Megan. "Art is not just a paintbrush and a piece of paper. It's another outlet, another way to learn."

And for Megan, one of the joys of the experience has been learning about some things her parents don't know. She says she's been able to instruct her whole family about sculpture. She loves it, she admits shyly, when "Mom and Dad say, 'Wow, Megan, you've learned a lot!' "

*E-mail comments to coeymanm@csps.com