Sunday, May 06, 2012

Worcester's South High Community School Students Take Art on the Road to Promote Reading

Worcester’s South High Community School Students
 Take Art on the Road to Promote Reading

        Seventy-five Chandler Elementary School first graders were treated to an interactive Read Across America extravaganza by twenty-five South High student artists in a unique celebration of reading in early March. This creative project was the brainchild of South High’s art teacher, Christine Lucey-Meagher. Ms. Lucey-Meagher never limits her students’ learning to the four walls of the art studio, instead she takes the time to design projects that involve the community and stimulate students’ imagination.  

    When Christine heard about the annual Read Across America initiative, she planned to combine that program with the high school’s illustration unit to show students how art inspires learning in young children. In addition to the art standards, she hoped students would develop their ability to present with confidence, teach with care and give back to the community.

      Ms. Meagher enlisted the support and collaboration of her friend and colleague, June Eressy, principal of Chandler Elementary School. While Christine’s students studied, sketched and painted life-size Dr. Seuss characters from The Cat in the Hat, Ms. Eressy’s staff prepared first graders for the celebration with conversation, sketching, and corridor displays.

      Many in the South High School community got involved. Two South High teachers, Ellen Parkinson and Patricia Falcone, sewed ten red and white striped hats for the celebration. Guidance Counselor, Delma Kusy, offered Thing One and Thing Two costumes.  Principal, Maureen Binienda, provided a bus and coverage for Ms. Meagher’s other classes, and Mr. Ben Badu assisted the presentation team by taking photos and videos of the big event.  Sam’s Club donated all the cardboard for the large scale paintings.

       With Cat in the Hat books in hand, and wearing colorful costumes and hats, the twenty-five student artists and Ms. Meagher boarded busses mid-morning for the project’s finale--the moment they had been planning for.  Enthusiastic first graders watched with eager smiles as the artists arrived and set up the colorful life-size Dr. Seuss character paintings. Ms. Meagher introduced the project, then each artist introduced a painting.  After that, high school students handed out student-drawn oversized coloring book pages and art supplies to the young students who happily began to read and color. Next, the high school students gathered small groups of students and read The Cat in the Hat to them. The cafeteria transformed into a reading room where high school students were reading to first graders, and first graders were reading to high schoolers.

      Students' reactions were positive. Kaleigh Brunell remarked, “It was awesome. The kids were so excited. They were so eager to sit down and read with us. They even offered to read.”  Norma Gully said, “The kids really got into it. Dressing up was a great touch and it really got the kids involved.” Julia Truong explained, “Seeing my board being displayed in a case in the wall was really cool. It looked nice, and I’m happy with the way it came out.” Louis Ponce said, “This kind of project helped me a lot. I never see kids watching our projects, and that felt so good.”

     The project exceeded Ms. Meagher’s expectations. She remarked, “I was so proud to see how caring my students were to these young students. I was particularly moved when my students came back and told me that the experience made them consider choosing a career working with young children. I know my students will remember this experience. I think it surprised them how much the young students looked up to them. They had not experienced that before.” The Read Across America Celebration for South High Community School and Chandler Elementary will always be remembered as a meaningful teaching moment for both students and their teachers. We are fortunate to have teachers and students who care enough about learning that they'll invest the extra time and care to make education a happy, meaningful, student-centered endeavor.
(Author's Note: I am a native of Worcester, Massachusetts.  Christine Lucey-Meagher is my cousin.  I am always impressed with the stories she tells me about her creative student-centered teaching methods, and her South High School's students' work, endeavor and effort.  I was particularly impressed with this project because it utilized students' hard work, creativity, collaboration and communication to enliven both their own education and the education of the young children at Chandler Elementary School.)