Right Brain residencies come in all shapes and sizes. As some Right Brain schools design their Right Brain year, they decide to match different classes with different artists. Other Right Brain schools take a leap and decide to connect with a single artist or organization to engage their entire student body all together. In the case of Ardenwald Elementary in Milwaukie, artist Amy Steel was invited to work with all students last year, from Kindergarten through 6th grade.
Because Ardenwald is a school that has recently been formed from two previous neighborhood schools coming together — in a new building, to boot — staff and teachers were interested in a residency that could invoke a sense of community within the newly formed student body.
To approach this theme in a way that could be interpreted by all students, Amy designed a project in which each student would create their own piece of a quilt, depicting their own individuality and sense of self, but then combine these pieces to make an elaborate quilt installation, to be displayed throughout the building. All classes got individual time with Amy, learning how to capture their own essence in watercolor on fabric, and really think about who they were. Older students helped to escort younger students to the project space, and watch the whole endeavor unfold. All classes discussed what community really means, and reflected on what kind of school community they vision for themselves.
After the residency, teachers and Amy gathered for a formal reflection, agreeing that students were very engaged throughout the project. The residency’s greatest strength was that all 500 students were involved intimately, all empowered to design their own identities as they wished. Teachers also observed many of their students approaching the assignment of creating their own image in unexpected ways. A student who normally struggled academically was observed to be very eager to learn from Amy and asked a lot of questions so he could paint his own features with intention and accuracy. Teachers also saw students who normally struggled a bit with self-esteem really shine when asked to create a self-portrait, something they were thrilled and surprised to find. They determined that they would like to try and unlock the uniqueness of this artistic “setting” that worked so well with so many of their students.
Aside from these larger concepts of community and communication and identity, there were unexpected curriculum connections. Watch this short video of Kirsten Luettgerodt, a 4th grade teacher from Ardenwald as she explains the project and the humorous connection to vocabulary her students made:
Also during the post-experience reflection, teachers decided that they would have an official school-wide “viewing” of the quilt, inviting students to think about and write in response to the prompt, “What do you think school visitors will understand about Ardenwald when they enter and see the quilts?”
Below are some of the students’ answers.
More interiors of Ardenwald are on our Flickr site, as shot by photographer Jeannie Ellis. Also on Flickr, an interesting diagram by Amy Steel giving insight into her learning as an educator and artist. Big thanks to all of the staff at Ardenwald, Amy, and Jeannie.