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SMArts Combines Art and Academics

November—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.

This year, the students studied two Spanish architects, Antonio Gaudi and Santiago Calatrava. Students then created their own “dwellings” using styrofoam and manipulated forms from oaktag. They decorated it with mosaics and found objects. They also looked at Gustav Klimt’s Tree of Life and its mosaic-like characteristics and created a small tree sculpture to add to the base of the dwellings.

The program was created by professor Linda Lehman who teaches art education. 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 organized by the ONU Education Department.

Prof. Lehman graduated cum laude from The Ohio State University at Lima with a Bachelor of Science degree in education before going on to teach elementary education at a number of schools in the area, such as St. Charles, Lima Garfield, Elida, Allen East, and Bath Elementary. She continued her education by obtaining her art certification, and eventually her Master’s degree in education.

Prof. Lehman teaches art education at Ohio Northern University where she also coordinates the Saturday Morning Arts enrichment program (SMArts) to provide fine arts education to the community’s children.

Prof. Lehman is a member of the Watercolor Society, The Ohio Art Education Association, The Chicago Museum of Art, the Lima Art Study Group, and serves on a number of university committees. She also serves on the Board of Trustees for ArtSpace Lima.

She recently received a 20-year Circa Recognition Award from the Ohio Art Education Association. In addition, she recently published an article, “Lesson of the Heart: An Extra-Credit Assignment” that addressed teacher dispositions for the Phi Delta Kappa’s national journal, Kappan. She was inducted into the OAEA Circa Honor Society that honors educators who have shown long-term service and professional dedication to the OAEA in the field of visual art education. She also has presented at regional and national conferences including the OAEA’s conference. Her recent session, entitled, “Connecting Visual Arts with the Disciplines,” described ONU’s Saturday Morning Arts (SMArts) program connecting the visual arts to other academic disciplines including biology and history.

Originally designated as the School of Fine Arts and later the College of Fine Arts, the art & design program was first established as an independent academic unit at Ohio Northern in 1878, largely as an outgrowth of course work in engineering and architectural drawing. Today, Ohio Northern offers both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with majors in advertising design, art education, graphic design and studio arts with concentrations in two-dimensional, three-dimensional and pre-art therapy. The department of A&D holds memberships in national organizations such as the National Art Education Association, College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education, AIGA: The Professional Association for Design, and the National Council on Education of Ceramic Arts. The department is recognized in the second and third editions of “Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers” as one of the best creative programs nationwide. For additional information about the department of art & design or the University’s 2013–14 Arts Exhibition Season, contact the department at 419.772.2160.