What do you get when you bring 24 talented teenagers and their teachers from all over North Carolina, drop them off at the Museum for three days, and challenge them to create a book that will teach character education to young children? The answer is What Can a Small Bird Be?, a story that has been published and is being placed in elementary and middle schools throughout the state.
Thanks to funding from the North Carolina General Assembly to support character education in K–12 public schools, the ELA section of the Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Museum of Art had the privilege of hosting these young people and their teachers for a Character Education Teen Residency Project. Under the leadership of artist Peg Gignoux and writer Susie Wilde, students transformed their ideas into images and words that tell the story of what it means to be a good person. (See photos of the event on Flickr.)
Carolyn Crutcher, an English 10 teacher at New Technology High School at Garinger in Charlotte, N.C., reflects on her experience.
Participating in the residency was such a rewarding experience for my students and me. First, in the words of Moe Win: “I had so many new experiences in a few days. The environment at the NCMA made me feel so creative. As I was an author/writer, I learned so much about showing not telling, revising, and editing for the story. I am not the type of person who likes to work with a team, but I learned that it is more fantastic to work with others. We were discussing and helping each other while writing our story. Another good opportunity was visiting the art galleries. I loved the tours Ms. Rusak guided. The art work invited me to think more about the purpose of the artists.”
Here are Ivan Gaddy’s reflections: “I wanted to go to Raleigh, but I was nervous because this was the first time that I had gone somewhere and spent more than one day without my family. The main thing I was worried about was the way we had to make the art. Before the residency, I had only used pencil and paper for drawing. Also I was afraid that the groups weren’t going to agree on anything. I am so glad that my assumptions were wrong. It was nice hearing the other groups’ stories and seeing how they drew the main character, “Bird.” I liked making the collages out of fabric, and I hope to use that form of art in the near future. The trip was great and I hope to go again.”
For me, as the teacher, it was sheer pleasure to have this time with such talented young people on such a creative project. I spent most of my time with the writing groups, but to my delight, I also got to help cut out fabric for the illustrations and even helped a little with sewing. When we toured the galleries, I was deeply moved by Michael Richards’s bronze sculpture, Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian, especially when Sandy Rusak told us that Michael died on September 11, 2001, in his art studio in one of the Twin Towers.
I used a picture of the sculpture and Michael’s story to introduce the essential question for a recent literature project: How do beliefs and attitudes affect the lives of individuals? First I showed the students a picture of the sculpture and instructed them to look at it and think about it. Then I had them read about Richards. With a partner they discussed these questions and wrote their answers:
- What is ironic about the bronze statue?
- Explain the allusions in the title Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian.
- Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?
- How did Michael Richards’s beliefs and attitudes shape his art?
- How did the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of the young men who flew the planes 9/11 affect Michael Richards’s life?
When the students completed their research, we had a stimulating class discussion. Although only two of my students were able to participate in the art residency, I was able to share one of the pieces of art with all my students.