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Carpe Diem Academy adds arts integration program

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Kids say the darndest things.

At least that’s the hope when educators and student-teachers at Carpe Diem Academy introduce a contemporary teaching method called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) into their lesson plans come spring.

Funded in part by a $5,000 ArtsErie grant, the progressive afterschool program will integrate critical response in visual art, partnering with language and literacy.

Designed to spark student-initiated discussion via observation of visual art reproductions, VTS helps learners hone their critical thinking and language skills. This method prompts learners by asking them “What’s going on in this picture?” and “What do you see that makes you say that?”

This teaching strategy will not only benefit Erie’s kindergarten, first and second grade students who attend the academy, but it will also further develop the facilitation and active listening skills of Mercyhurst students who are studying to be teachers, said Mary Elizabeth Meier, Ph.D., director of art education at Mercyhurst.

“This arts integration initiative through Carpe Diem Academy allows us to explore opportunities for integration of visual literacy and language development in curriculum used throughout the Erie school system,” said Meier, a former elementary and middle level art teacher who has taught in schools in Erie County and East Hartford, Conn.

This past fall, Meier and art education students piloted VTS with second graders at the academy with surprising results. While discussing a poster reproduction of the 1935 oil painting, “Parade on Hammond Street” by artist Allan Rohan Crite, one student described the painting as a representation of “showing support.” 

When asked to elaborate, the girl described how the crowd’s presence in the painting represented “showing support,” pointing out that the people gathered to watch the marching band were looking, giving their best attention, and clapping — all of which, according to the girl’s observation and interpretation, signify support.

“That response was astounding because it was an even richer message than I intended to teach them that day,” Meier said. “If we as educators learn to listen to what our students are saying, we can learn a lot and vice versa.”

Approximately a dozen graduate students and several undergraduate students are in collaboration with Meier and Carpe Diem Academy director Amy Bauschard to integrate VTS into the curriculum. They are working together in stages of grant writing, fieldwork and professional learning workshops for the VTS facilitators. 

Visual Thinking Strategies is a method of critical response to art and visual culture that was born in the mid-90s, stemming from research in museum education (Philip Yenawine), visual thinking (Rudolf Arnheim) and aesthetic development (Abigail Housen).

Carpe Diem Academy, funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, was launched in 2012. Hundreds of students from Edison, McKinley, Lincoln and Jefferson schools receive additional lessons in math, reading and the arts. Open four days a week from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., students also participate in daily fitness, while receiving a healthy snack and dinner.