ROCK ISLAND -- Students at Longfellow Liberal Arts School in Rock Island are not only happy because the school year is ending. Every student, in kindergarten through 6th grades, collaborated with Augustana College for a special art project on the Mississippi River.|
The school -- at 4198 7th Ave., just down the avenue from Augustana -- recently completed seven river-themed murals, one for each grade, with help and guidance of Rock Island artists Andi Naab and Marilyn Fields.
"Longfellow students are fortunate to have the art instruction, drawing and painting opportunities since there is no art instruction in the elementary curriculum in Rock Island," said retiring kindergarten teacher Vicki Peterson, who has written grants for school art projects.
Currently, "the only art in elementary classrooms comes from the interest and motivation of the classroom teacher," she said, and "the only time you're going to have art lessons in school is when you have grants (to pay the artists)."
Grants from the Rock Island Art Guild and Quad City Arts allowed Ms. Naab and Ms. Fields to teach drawing to the students, prepare them to make something related to the river, and then transfer their drawings to 4-foot-by-5-foot canvases. Students worked in small groups to paint under the direction of the artists.
Each mural has its own theme, including night and day (featuring an eagle and owl); fish; natural grasses; boats; animals found near the river and local bridges over the river, which the corresponding grade studied in class in April.
Ms. Peterson said students who might be English Language Learners, or speak another language, find "a more even playing field" with art, "because you don't necessarily have to have good verbal skills to be a successful artist."
Ms. Naab said that "art is a universal language."
"You see the kids are missing that part of the curriculum," she said.
Ms. Fields, who taught in Rock Island (K-6) schools for 34 years before retiring seven years ago, said the kids have had a great time with the project.
"The kids drew their own picture," she said. "Every child in each class did something, so they've all had their hand at it."
Augustana funded a month-long study of the river, including classroom sets of books, an author visit, outreach programs and free field trips for all grades. Kindergartners went to Blackhawk State Park; first graders went to Nahant Marsh in Davenport; second and third graders went on the Celebration Belle riverboat, and fourth, fifth and sixth graders went to the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque.
More than 90 percent of the students who went on the Celebration Belle had never been on a boat before, said Chuck Hyser, an Augustana education professor who is the main college liaison with the 7-year-old Longfellow partnership.
"The school poverty rate is 79 percent -- that many families qualify for free and reduced lunch."
Dr. Hyser's education majors also worked at Longfellow, working with a different grade each trimester, four hours a week. All of his students went on the Dubuque field trip, and a couple went on others, he said.
"The vision on the part of our board is to give back to the community, to match our educational mission here at the college," Dr. Hyser said.
The college has a budget of $23,000 a year for Longfellow teachers to request money, and a campus fundraiser added $7,000 for the river projects "to do whatever we can to enhance the educational program, going beyond what the district supplies," he said.
This year was the largest-scale partnership ever between the college and elementary school, Dr. Hyser said. "We tried to find a topic that's local, that kids would relate to, that's accessible."
As part of that, teachers put together a curriculum for each grade, and the Augie-Longfellow steering committee talked about what they could do to have a big, memorable impact on the kids, and came up with some kind of mural.
"When Vicki called and asked me, I said, yes, I don't care if you give me anything, just to be back in the classroom," said Ms. Fields, who integrated art instruction in her last 17 years as a teacher at Horace Mann Choice School. "I had an art minor in college, so it's something I enjoy."
Ms. Naab is an artist involved with Left Bank Art League, and her three kids went to Longfellow. Over the years, Ms. Naab has worked on other projects at Longfellow.
"The kids love it," she said. "That's a great feeling."
Music, social studies, and science related to the river were also part of the classes, Dr. Hyser said. Studying the river may be an ongoing class for the Longfellow students, though they may not do art as part of it, he said.
The murals will be installed in the school cafeteria, where students can take special pride in seeing them every day, Ms. Peterson said.
Some Augustana students will do presentations on the curriculum at the Illinois Reading Conference in October, in Springfield.
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