After School Special

December, 2009

An art class that provides teaching moments—and fun—for all

by Barbra Alan

John Anderson photo.

It’s 3:30 p.m., and Jennifer Bradbury ’05, assisted by art education majors Julie Nichols and Betsy Brooker, is buzzing around D&M 311, taking stock of the classroom before her students arrive. Paints? Check. Brushes? Check. Juice and snacks? Check.

If you guessed that this isn’t for college students, you’re right. It’s for the 20 local grade schoolers who are starting to file in, all eager to snack, socialize, and pick up where last week’s class left off.

PSU’s After School Arts Program is a six-week program that has been offered each fall and spring for the past decade. More than an art class for children, the program gives art education majors—many of them first-years with no prior classroom teaching experience—an opportunity to observe and work with children, as well as to observe and be mentored by a professional teacher.

Since fall 2007, that teacher has been Bradbury, who participated in the program when she was a student and now teaches at nearby Plymouth Elementary School. “The students are curious about teaching art, and about working with kids,” she says. “Some [students] are shyer than the kids at the beginning, but when we begin a project, that’s when the connections are made, and the students assume the role of teacher fairly easily.”

According to Julie Nichols, now a sophomore art education major, participating in the program “gave me a chance to teach and learn more about teaching at the same time.”

It’s not just the kids and the PSU students who are learning, as Bradbury is quick to point out. “After I introduce a project, I’ll sometimes have an idea in mind as to how the finished pieces will look, and then the students come out with something completely unique and completely surprising,” she says.

Typically, Bradbury includes a story with each lesson. “Sometimes I’ll think of the art project first, and find a story to go with it,” she says. “Other times, I’ll find a great story that will inspire an art project.”

John Anderson photo.

In this class, Bradbury reads The Long Silk Strand by Laura E. Williams. It’s a story about the relationship between a girl and her grandmother, and it’s set in Japan, which is the theme for this semester’s After School Arts Program. After the story, the children begin decorating their own large cardboard kimonos under the watchful eye of Bradbury and her mentees. Some of the children glue fabric pieces on their kimonos collage-style, mimicking the book’s illustrations. Others use paints and markers. Regardless of the materials they use, all of the kimonos are as unique as their creators.

“It’s fun to see [the kids’] enthusiasm,” says Nichols. “They draw what they want, in the colors they love. They are at the stage where they don’t feel like they have to conform to any rules, or what their friends are doing.”

Bradbury agrees, noting, “You can see each child in their art.”

Program Director Bill Haust, a professor of art education, notes that the program’s consistent enrollment success has been largely due to its great reputation among the kids and their parents. “We send out flyers to schools to promote the program, but it’s been the kids and their parents who have been our best promoters,” he says. “Many of the kids come back year after year; they really enjoy the classes, and you can see the pride they have when they show their parents their work.”

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