Arts Renaissance in Tuscaloosa Schools

Bringing the arts to Tuscaloosa-area schools.



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.

A Semester in Review

Hey all! We’ve had a blast this semester creating and giving workshops to the kids at Matthews Elementary and, as of recently, the internet. We, the students wanted to do a wrap up and share our thoughts on our Community Arts class and the importance of art in schools.

We first started our class with a discussion on art. What is art? Why is art? What do we gain from making and/or consuming it? We got to see a lot of different perspectives from our classmates and professor, and we started to brainstorm a bit on our workshops we planned to give at Matthews Elementary.

One of the things that a lot of us enjoyed was testing the workshops. We went through the steps of each step the week before we were slated to give it, so we would be able to rehearse and see if there were any potential issues we might have.

The first workshop we gave was about face jugs, a workshop led by our professor, Dr. Galbraith. We sat and listened as she told us about the history of face jugs and engaged us with the same questions she might ask the kids. It was exciting, and we were even more excited to create our own jugs after watching her demonstration. Pictured above are a couple of the jugs we created. One student even volunteered to help our professor glaze all of the jugs from the students at Matthews after the clay was dried and fired. This was no small task as there were probably 80+ jugs in total.

The effort put into this workshop paid off though. We saw kids sharing ideas with one another and showing off their creations. When we brought the finished jugs back a few weeks later, a student spied them sitting in the hallway and broke into a happy dance. It was a great feeling to see all of the kids at Matthews so excited to receive their pieces. We were able to dole them out after our zentangle workshop, which was also an interesting experience. Some of the classrooms were full of quiet and meditative students, while others were fun of noise and laughter as students worked on their pieces and shared ideas with one another. It quickly became one of the favorite workshops that we had the opportunity to give.

After this, we were encouraged and excited to continue on. The next workshop we held was about paper airplanes. We showed the students step-by-step how to fold two different airplane designs, and we got to talk a little bit about the science of flight. We had a lot of opportunities to work with the kids one-on-one if they had difficulties folding their planes correctly. After each student had a completed plane, we gave them markers to decorate and personalize their planes before they entered into a classroom contest. It was exciting to see them compete and have fun flying their planes. A few weeks later we gave the same workshop to students at Woodlawn Middle School, which was a different experience altogether, but it was still a blast! Little did we know that it was our last workshop with one another before universities and schools across the country switched to online learning.

After the switch, we were understandably upset about the workshops we couldn’t give to the students we’d been working with at Matthews. We were sad to see some of our work go to waste, so it was decided that we would post our remaining workshop instructions to this blog. If you haven’t seen, there are a few new workshops with instructions uploaded to the site, so scroll and look through them to find one you might like. You can find a workshop on building robots out of recycled materials from Avery, how to make a collage from materials in your home from Ariana, and how to create abstract art from Sarah. We also might have one more focused on dances through the decades coming, so stay tuned for that!

We hope that you all are staying safe and healthy during this uncertain time, and we hope that you will be able to enjoy these workshops and share them with your friends. We would love to see your creations, so reach out on our Facebook page, Tuscaloosa ARTS. Maybe we’ll share some of them here too!

Abstract Art at Home!

Good afternoon! The last two months have brought complete change to most of our lives, and that means a lot of parents are teaching their kids from home. But the internet is full of teaching resources for your child, and now the blog is too! Below is a workshop tailored to be completed at home with the supplies you and your child might already have, and we would love to hear how it goes! See the last slide for information on how to share your abstract art experience, and happy creating!

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Quarantine Collages

Hey everyone! It’s a bit wild that we’ve been social distancing and isolating as we can for over a month now. It’s trying for a lot of people, and I’m sure kids are full of limitless energy more now than ever. Below I’ve attached some instructions for how kids and families can make collages together. Use whatever you can find in your home to make a collage. All you need are a pair of scissors, some glue, a piece of paper, and things to glue!

Thanks for reading! I hope this workshop helps you to create something and think creatively! -Ariana

Right before being homebound

We were able to participate in showing Westlawn Middle School Our airplane art project.

First we taught the seventh graders. We went over the entire powerpoint presentation with them. Then started to create the airplanes when we were told that they had to leave right then and there. Oh I was upset. We did not even get to finish the airplanes. So I had to come up with a quick solution and I mean Quick. I ended up just sending the teacher with an airplane that was already folded so they could see what their end goal would be. Second we taught eighth graders. The seventh and eighth graders were not as good as the sixth graders. They were a little disrespectful for example coping Katherine when she was presenting the powerpoint. She handled it rather well. Katherine was explaining about the Wright Brothers and he said “and one of them was still alive” and Kathrine later said “and see they would be over a hundred years old if they were still alive today. Then he stopped making sarcastic comments. With the seventh graders we did not go in detail about the history of the gliders. We just made a few notes while constructing the plane. Finally the sixth graders. Sixth graders were my absolute favorite. One little boy came to me and said, “ thank you for teaching me how to make paper airplanes”. He then came to me and gave me his airplane. He wished he would see me again and begged that I would become a teacher. He’s so precious. 

Teaching the same lesson over three times was interesting. The first time we were so rushed and it was very uncomfortable because we didn’t get to finish. We made it work but it was definitely a learning curve. The final time we did it we had so much time left and we ended up coloring the airplanes. It made me realize no matter what you do there will be another way to do something but you have to decide which way is the best. So even though we did the project before  and knew how to do it we still did it differently all four times. 

Recycling Robots

Thinking Back to Zentangle Workshop

Our last workshop of the semester (unbeknownst to us) was perhaps my favorite of them all. I got the chance to work with the same kids as I did during the two previous sessions, and we have begun to get to know each other a bit better and get more comfortable with one another. During this Zentangle workshop, I was aided by Dr. Galbraith, which caused me a bit of nervousness due to her position as grader for this class, but also ease due to her experience with working in this environment much more than I have. We began with a PowerPoint, and at the end we asked if anyone did not know what to do. One student raised his hand and said, “I don’t understand.” (First of all, I was grateful he felt comfortable enough to admit that to us, as communication is the first step to teamwork!) In my experience with the paper airplanes, the step-by-step instructions did little to help the students unless they were also shown how to get to that end result shown in the photo. With this in mind, I thought it might be useful to make one with their help and input while they watched, so that they could fully grasp what they were being asked to do. The ever-gracious Ms. Hill prepared and offered me the projector, and I went through each step, asking for the student’s ideas regarding lines, shapes, and doodles. By the end, they said they understood what to do, and we could begin.

The most memorable lesson from this workshop was one born of frustration. One of the students, whose name is on the tip of my tongue but refuses to reveal itself, found the entire concept of a Zentangle rather infuriating, as he claimed all his other classmates (and I) could enjoy it because they did not care about perfection in their work. I said that that was right, and it did not have to be perfect. “Yes, it does have to be perfect, because I’m perfect!” he said adamantly. I thought this was preposterous and tried to instead focus on what he had already done, praising his lines or color use or choice of doodles. But halfway through the students’ semi-independent work time, he had only filled in two of his ten sections and remained visibly perturbed by the entire experience.

At this point I had kind of given up on him completing the workshop and instead tried to be satisfied that he had started at all, and I began helping others at his table and talking to them about what good artists they were through specific examples of what I thought was unique and creative about each particular piece. Then from one of the students came the question, “Are you an artist?” 

“Yes, actually I am!” I responded

“Do you make money off your art?” another piped in.

“Sometimes,” I chuckled at the immediate concern with profiting from hobbies and/or artistic endeavors.

“What kind of art do you make?” Now the whole table was involved in the conversation.

“I make abstract paintings,” then proceeding to explain what abstract meant, as other students helped me in doing so. I was impressed by their willingness and apparent pleasure in helping their classmate who did not know the meaning of abstract, but I felt as though it now sounded as though I was some incredible, unrealistically talented painter. And as a former child who believed “artist” to be an entirely unattainable title for myself, I wanted to show that art is really just what you love to make and share with others. So I made a split-second decision to possibly get in trouble for having my phone out and looked around at this table’s now very attentive students.

“Do you want to see?” I asked them. And a chime of yeses met my question as soon as it came from my lips. In high school, one art teacher of mine had shown me through her work and in helping me with mine that being an artist was very real and possible, not just for prodigies or those who could focus on drawing the eye of a hyper-realistic frog exactly accurately. I was thrilled by the Matthews students’ animated response and jumped at the chance to share the message of my dear former art teacher. I quickly crossed the classroom, took my phone from my jacket, and pulled up my portfolio online. The students at this particular table were now out of their seats and surrounding me to get a look, and a flurry of comments and questions arose.

“Wow! When do you make them?”

“In my free time.”

“How much do you make for these?”

“It actually depends on the size and materials!” 

At this point the student who had been frustrating me asked, “Which one did you make the most money from?” So I tapped the photo of a large commission piece I did last spring, and the student piped up again.

“But that looks weird!” he was ever-adamant but now confused.

“You’re right! But that’s the great thing about abstract art! It doesn’t have to look “right” or any certain way, just how you want it to.” I was unsure if they were still paying attention, and it had come time to migrate to adjoining tables, but I was met with surprise at one of those other tables when that same student walked up to me just a few minutes later (I am not stern about them staying in their seats if they want to ask me a question, because I often spend significant time at each table and do not always see their raised hands if my back is turned.).

“Look!” he said as I turned his way once I was finished with the student I was helping. I look in his hands to see he had completed his Zentangle! Some boxes were filled with doodles but three, I noticed, were very abstract. I noted the angle of his marks in one of the boxes, and he proceeded to tell me about why he chose the style and color of each one.

“I made it abstract!” I could still hear the strong will in his voice, for that had not changed. But his flexibility and open-mindedness had, and I was absolutely thrilled.


Caption: The student who challenged me in this workshop and made it such a memorable one.


Thanks for reading!

Sarah Beverly

Crafts and Quarantined

Day 21 of being quarantined and I am making the best out of a situation that we can. Sadly, classes at The University of Alabama have been moved to online and all of the schools in Alabama have been closed until further notice. Therefore, our class was unable to visit Matthews Elementary School to do another project.

I decided to grab up some materials and continue the project with my nephews. Granted I had made this project with the intentions of doing it with fifth graders instead of doing it with five year olds. We still had a lot of fun doing it! Since we were unable to go to the store and get materials we literally reused materials we had. We had so much fun doing this project. The boys are at the stage where they love robots. So the idea was fitting for them.

I noticed that one boy would put a lot of paint on his roll and the other would put just a little bit. Ideally it would need to be about in between both of them but they still worked out great.

We were unable to find glue that had a correct top so I helped pour it and just wished for the best. These robots turned out amazing. Even with our limited resources. But isn’t that what makes art great? Taking one man’s trash can be turned into a treasure right?

This taught me to keep calm during this time and if you think hard and long enough we can make a craft with whatever we having.

Dancing Through the Decades With Fitness

Although the semester was cut short, there is still so much to be thankful for. I am disappointed that there was not an opportunity to complete the rest of the workshops our class had prepared, but I am incredibly thankful for such a supportive group of individuals to work alongside, and who were so willing to help me in creating and refining my proposed workshop.

My proposed workshop, Dancing Through the Decades, is one that combines dancing, history, and music. Through this workshop, students will learn about key events from the 1920’s all the way to 2020. Some examples of events to be covered are the stock market crash of the 1920’s, the Civil Rights Movement, and 9/11, along with many more. In addition to learning about the basic facts of each event of the particular decade, there is a song from that decade that is paired with a fitness routine. This way, the students are able to learn about our nation’s history in a fun, engaging way, while exercise and physical fitness are also being promoted.

An example of a slide to be presented about the 1960’s explaining different aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. A portion of the song “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke would accompany this part of the presentation.

By watching and following along to a video, the kids will perform the fitness routine for that particular decade after learning about the event. For example, World War II was happening during the 1940’s. For this decade, the song is “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” This will allow the students to further understand what was happening during the 1940’s while also encouraging them to think about how Americans were keeping their spirits up during a worldwide war was being waged. At the end of the presentation, the students will piece each routine together to perform the dance in its entirety. They will perform this routine, with the help of the presenter and the videos, of course, to reflect on what they have learned during the workshop.

From Irvin Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” to Kanye West’s “Power,” the workshop encourages students to have pride in America’s history while also being encouraged to think about how music is able to reflect the current events happening around them. Through this proposed workshop, it is my hope that the students will find that exercising can be so much fun, and that history goes far beyond a textbook, reaching into all aspects of our society.

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