BRINGING ART BACK TO CLASSROOMS
March 20, 2012
Students at George Kelly Elementary in Tracy, Calif., erupt into cheers on the days an art docent arrives in their classroom to lead a lesson. Twelve of these crafty docent parent volunteers regularly fan out across the grades (K-8) dispensing art history facts as well as demonstrating and providing supplies for a hands-on project. In this cash-strapped school district typical of most across the state, their presence is a welcome sight because funding for art education is virtually nonexistent.
The art docent program is the brainchild of Lynne Millar, a particularly creative mother of four. Millar was an art history major in college and was troubled when her first child hit grade school and there was no art program in place. "I really wanted him to have some component of art education as part of his schooling, and that's when the idea came to me," she says.
Four years ago, she began volunteering in her son's 2nd grade class each week teaching art-history-based lessons that she found in books or on museum websites. They were such a hit with the kids and their teacher, not to mention how much fun she had herself, that she wanted to offer other students at the school the same opportunity. Once the principal gave her the go-ahead, she spent the following summer putting together lesson plans and rounding up volunteers.
Lessons usually revolve around a brief slide presentation and discussion of a famous artist before diving headlong into a hands-on activity that incorporates the master's style. There have been some great interpretations done by kids of Monet's water lilies, Paul Klee's landscapes, and the ubiquitous Mona Lisa (one child depicted her as wearing braces!), all utilizing inexpensive materials in inventive ways. Parents raise money for the art supplies; Millar notes that parents schoolwide have been incredibly generous. There's been a great response as well to the end-of-the-year art show. Kids choose their favorite pieces to display, families come, and pride abounds.
Three years into the program, Millar hopes to continue adding to her docent ranks. The biggest challenge on that front is parents expressing nervousness, saying, "Oh, gosh, I don't have any art background. I don't think I could lead an art lesson." Millar finds that if she can just get other parents to try, they generally see it's a really fun way to volunteer because the students are so excited to have the chance to do art.
"So much of what kids are exposed to these days in video games and through the media is not...wonderful," Millar says. "I think it's important for kids to be exposed to the best civilization has created, to the works of such artists as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and others like them. I think it can really inspire them and be an important part of their growth."
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Bruce Brown