Arts Renaissance in Tuscaloosa Schools

Bringing the arts to Tuscaloosa-area schools.


May 2020

ARTS in the News

The ARTS program and the associated New College seminar New 490: Community Arts were recently featured in the UA College of Arts and Sciences College News. Here’s the article, written by Sara Beth Bolin:

New College Class Provides Online Arts Workshops

At the beginning of the semester, UA professor Marysia Galbraith had a plan for her community arts class. The New College class would visit Matthews Elementary biweekly, hosting interactive arts workshops for fifth graders. After observing and assisting for a few workshops, the college students would get the chance to lead their own workshops with lesson plans that they developed themselves.

For Galbraith, who is a potter outside of her duties as a New College and anthropology professor, bringing arts education to school is something that she sees as essential. She said many school districts don’t have the budget for thorough arts education programs, and she hopes her class can help elevate the importance of such programs for students.

“By revitalizing the arts, you build communities,” Galbraith said. “Through art, you can work with at-risk communities, with people of all different backgrounds and abilities, and through those relationships, you can create and promote community.”

The first half of the semester was incredibly successful for this class, according to Galbraith. But the COVID-19 outbreak changed the plan that Galbraith created for her students.

When Alabama schools closed in mid-March, Galbraith and her class had to re-evaluate what they thought was set in stone. After careful consideration, she decided that the best course of action would be to move everything online to provide her students a chance to share their skills, as well as give parents and elementary school students something fun to do while they isolate in their homes.

“There are a lot of kids out there, and they’re looking for things to do,” Galbraith said. “I think that the need that motivated the project and the class in the first place, which is that there’s not enough arts education in schools, is still present during this time. Kids still have a very limited exposure to arts. And so we can still provide them that service.”

With help from the Center for Instructional Technology, the community arts class’s students have created instructional PDFs and video tutorials for kids of all ages to access and use during the stay-at-home orders around the country. These tutorials will be distributed by the school, but are also available on their blog. Galbraith was initially concerned that the sharp shift in curriculum would be difficult for her students, but she says that they stepped up to the plate and exceeded her expectations.

“I have a really great group of students,” Galbraith said. “They’ve been fantastic at thinking on their feet. And they’re not afraid to try new things. So it’s been wonderful. It’s so sad that we weren’t able to continue the face-to-face workshops. But I think that this is just another layer of their ability to think creatively, and I’ve been impressed with their ability to do that. They really like the challenge.”

To access the workshops, visit the community arts class’s website.

What one student learned from leading arts workshops

The experiences working in the schools this semester have been incredibly valuable.
Although we were there to teach and guide them, I believe I learned just as much from and through them. It brought me so much joy to see the students enjoying their time with us and with our different projects. Each workshop felt like a success and like we had given the students a valuable experience.

The school staff and teachers were very welcoming and allowed us to independently
work with the children. Each workshop was very different and required different types of structure. It was a good challenge to work through finding that balance of freedom and structure. Through this course and the workshops, we learned how to create a lesson plan for young students and how to communicate effectively with them. This was critical for the workshops to run smoothly and succeed. The preparation for the workshops was great. Without all of the textbook readings and articles, I would not have felt near as confident.

Throughout the workshops I learned how to lead and guide a group of young students.
Before the semester, I had never worked in a school setting with students. At first, I was a little nervous on keeping the students engaged throughout the workshops, but I was pleasantly surprised to find how focused and interested they were. One of the main takeaways from my experiences was how engaged children can be when they are free to be creative. The students wanted to create, and they truly cared about the quality of their work. They did not get bored and distracted like I thought they may. Instead, they were eager to participate and learn. Some  students would even ask for more time for the workshops and wanted to spend more time with their projects.

An insight I gained was how encouraging and kind children can be to one another while
working alongside each other. The students genuinely enjoyed getting ideas from each other and sharing their work with their friends. I was impressed with their maturity and kindness towards one another. It was inspiring to see that in the school setting and see students excited about sharing with each other. I definitely felt a sense of community while working in the schools. Even though the students were not creating projects as a group, they fully supported one another.

By leading these workshops, I have found myself even more passionate about the need
for the arts in schools. In conventional schools and classrooms, the arts are not typically a priority. But, now seeing first-hand how beneficial the art workshops were, I firmly believe that art in schools should be a priority, and educators should be informed on the various benefits. In the traditional classroom, some students are always going to be struggling, but in the settings, we created, they were able to feel successful and capable. They were given the opportunity to exercise parts of their brains that they don’t typically use in the classroom.

One of the most important things I learned about the arts in schools was how autonomy is fostered in the learning environment. In the environments we created, the students were given autonomy. Rather than giving them a test or enforcing goals, we gave them the freedom of choice, and we allowed them to direct their own experiences. By doing so, we saw the students taking ownership of their learning and their creative process. Overall, it was clear that student engagement, the desire to learn, and motivational tendencies can be supported by the classroom environment and the structure of the learning environment.

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