I teach art at Pewaukee High School in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. In our district “authentic” and “relevant” are two major buzzwords. Cultivating learning experiences for students that help them become future-ready is also a K12 initiative in the district. Because of this I’ve been rethinking the experiences I provide for my students. I also read the book The Open Art Room by Ian Sands and Melissa Partee. It is an outline of how to start a Teaching For Artistic Behaviors (TAB) choice-based program at the high school level. Through district goals and my awareness of choice I’ve been moving towards helping students curate experiences that meet their needs as developing artists.
College and career readiness along with a modified-choice-based curriculum have inspired my planning. I want to give my students experiences that they can use for their futures beyond high school. I have a few goals for these types of experiences. Not every experience meets every goal, but the diversity is part of the value of the opportunities.
These experiences should:
- Support the development of a portfolio that students could choose to use for college and career purposes.
- Enable students to learn how to network and connect with the arts community that they will graduate into and become part of either as a working artist or as an arts-minded citizens.
- Enrich the students’ professional resume, whether through paid/awarded assignments or service-based community arts outreach.
- Help the student develop an awareness of the bigger picture of life. Connecting to social justice causes, community organizations and helping students develop an understanding that these organizations exist and that they are worth adding to their network of professional contacts.
A few of the recent ways I’ve connected students to real-life experiences include:
- The Memory Project- The Memory Project is a charitable nonprofit organization that invites art teachers and their students to create and donate portraits to youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as violence, disasters, extreme poverty, neglect, and loss of parents.
- Graphic Design class partnered with The Pewaukee Kiwanis Club and the PHS Journalism class for the new HOOK publication. Both of these opportunities provided students with real life employment opportunities developing the designer-client relationship.
- Pewaukee High School Tile-A-Mile© - is the biannual community art-making event. It was started in 2009 when I saw that the Visual Art Department at Pewaukee High School was the only one without a scholarship. I wanted students to have the opportunity to get help with their pursuit of art degrees. I was inspired by the idea to paint tiles and hang them all around the school. I thought some day we might have enough to create a mile long art installation! Art Club leads this event and develops many skills through service to their community.
In each instance students' art making efforts took them beyond the classroom. They met people who are professionals in the arts, or who needed an arts professional. In the instance of The Memory Project and the Graphic Design project students developed a client-designer relationship while also endeavoring in service for a community organization. With the Tile-A-Mile event students learned how to be strong leaders and advocates for the arts while providing a fundraiser that benefitted their own art program.
So I challenge you to go beyond your classroom walls and help your students CONNECT to the greater arts community. Whether it’s through service projects or relevant resume building work these opportunities provide vital occasions for students to become future ready. Authentic and relevant is achievable if you connect beyond your classroom. Choose one way to connect and before you know it there will be many more choices available to your students to make connections through their art and community.