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SMArts Combines Art and Academics
Saturday Morning Arts (SMArts) helps Northern early and middle education majors make a direct connection with local elementary students.
On selected Saturdays throughout the fall, early and middle childhood teacher candidates provide classes for community students. The program has involved kindergarten through eighth grade students from the area schools of Ada, Bath, Bluffton and Perry. Held on the ONU campus in the Wilson Art Center, activities focus on art history, aesthetics, art production, art criticism, and connecting the arts to other disciplines.
The program was created by education professor Linda Lehman, who provides guidance and direction to the teacher candidates. Teacher candidates prepare lessons that not only teach the processes of creating and critiquing art but also how art reflects the culture and social context it is created in. Students engage in activities where they learn how art connects to the disciplines of math, science, social studies and to the language arts. They also explore aesthetic questions regarding the value of art and why some art pieces are regarded more highly than others. Teacher candidates engage in critical thinking to develop activities that challenge their young students to think creatively and apply higher level thinking skills. Lehman also points out that, "Our economy is constantly changing, and we need to be able to put learners into that economy, who can analyze information that hasn't even been created yet. Art helps children develop the creative problem solving skills that employers will be looking for."
An early childhood education major Kelli Powell, who participated in SMArts as a teacher candidate, commented, "The first time I heard about the SMArts program, I was really excited. I thought it was a great opportunity to implement what we were learning within our art class while also practicing being in front of students. The more experience we have with instructing students, the better teachers we become. I hope to someday be able to use some of the media we explored during SMArts in my own classroom."
But SMArts is not just about clinical experience for teacher candidates. SMArts also acts as a good way to expose public school students to media that they normally do not have a chance to experience. School budgets typically do not allow for photography, paper pulp painting and pulp casting. "Since we are dealing with smaller student numbers and additional teaching staff, SMArts can offer these enrichment opportunities to the local students" Lehman noted. The program builds on the art experiences the students have had in their local schools and is a valuable part of the their education. Powell affirmed, "Art is an essential part of any curriculum. It encourages student creativity, problem solving, and self-discovery. It also provides a means of communication for students who may struggle with putting their thoughts into words. SMArts allowed the students to thrive because it gave them time. They had plenty of time to experiment and produce beautiful, unique works of art. Our students also learned social skills such as acceptance and tolerance. They learned that it is all right for someone to feel differently about a work of art or to create their piece of art differently."
Parents show overwhelming support for the SMArts program through positive comments and survey results. Each year the Education Department receives inquiries as to when the program will be offered and if it can be expanded.
This first program was funded in 2006 by the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. It has been continued each year since supported by the ONU Education Department.