Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Max Hayes Art Club, and a Case for Experiential Learning

I have always believed the axiom "Experience is the best teacher" which, I suppose, is one of the reasons why, even as a student, I was drawn to the classes where you worked with your hands. I always enjoyed my science labs immensely (yes, I used to teach science years ago) and the art studio just felt like home. Field trips also made quite an impact. New sights, different faces, and the possibility of adventure brought a sense of excitement to a week day that typically plodded along to the drone of lectures accented by school bells.

When I first became a teacher in the Cleveland schools, a district constantly strapped for cash, we were subtly discouraged from taking students out of the classroom on field trips. The cost of transportation coupled with the cost of having a substitute cover the remaining classes made any excursion prohibitive. Scheduling a field trip was also very tricky, since there are so many mandatory tests given throughout the year, some of them lasting as long as a week. Faced with these constraints, many Cleveland teachers, including myself, put field trips on the back burner, except perhaps for a visit to the Art Museum once every couple of years.

The award of a four-year Young Audiences ICARE grant 0f approximately $120,000 in 2002, allowed me to break free of the status quo mind set of "it can't be done."

Oh my! How quickly I discovered, money certainly can change things.

When the grant period concluded in 2006, I wanted to continue offering my students some of the same quality arts experiences, but once again, funds and scheduling remained obstacles.
The solution?
After school programing solved the scheduling problems. The Max Hayes Art Club meets Thursdays after school from 2:30 until 4:00. It is run as a drop-in studio with a Zen approach to membership, meaning: Whoever shows up is who is supposed to be there.
On studio days, the kids are given materials to work with that I don't typically use in class, due to cost and/or limited quantities. So far this year we have finger painted, worked with oil pastels, charcoal, and painted Christmas ornaments.
Funding for art supplies remains a constant issue. This year we were given a $50 donation from money raised by the kind efforts of Convivium 33 Gallery owner, Alenka Banco. I look for discount and sale items whenever I'm shopping, and am happy to pick up the tab for a few items here and there that I know the students will enjoy using.
The best part of the Art Club experience though has been the field trips.

Field trips are scheduled on random days, as the opportunities become available. This semester we have trekked to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Spaces Art Gallery (several times) Convivium 33 Gallery, Streets of Manhattan Glass Studio, and the W 69th Street studio of sculptor Melissa Daubert. The only cost to the district is the price of a bus ticket on the RTA.

In January we will be heading out to The Glass Studio to learn glass blowing with Mike Zelenka, a glass artist who also works at Max Hayes as a tennis coach and substitute teacher. I'll be sure to post those photos next month.

On a more philisophical note:

If a young person's art's education is limited to whatever the teacher can offer in the confines of a classroom, that education is sorely inadequate. I feel so strongly about the value these kinds of experiences have to offer, I volunteer my time and money to make them possible for the kids at Max Hayes.

Unfortunately, the attitude of too many folks in Cleveland seems to be that arts education is a frill. It gets a lot of lip-service but very little funding. Administrators are loathe to fund subject areas that are not a part of state mandated testing.

Field trips are also treated as non-essential activities. Rather than being regarded as important learning experiences, they are given "reward" status, offered only to the "good" students.

Occasionally I'm asked what type of school I would like to see if I could design one from scratch. I haven't thought about most of of details, but I do know I would start with experiential learning as the core. It's missing from most of today's public educational programs, and well, you can see what kind of shape they are in.

I guess you might say I would take the "Magic School Bus" approach to learning. In the words of Miss Frizzle, we need to "Go out, take chances, make mistakes, and get dirty!”

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Anonymous said...

I'm with you--take those kids out of the classroom and let them see the world. I do 19 fieldtrips a year so my inner city kids can get out of their 6-block ghetto.

pedro-fabian said...

omg i look soooo high in that picture miss u have to take better pictures of MEEEEEEE

adidasi said...

good classroom
good pictures boys