Posts Tagged 'DISD'

Learning to Help the Learners: My Year as a Leadership ISD Fellow

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Let’s consider the proverbial elephant in the room: many school districts, including Dallas ISD, are in need of community help, be it as informed advocates or active participants. Often, those of us outside the intricacies of the district itself feel helpless to initiate assistance, or to even know where to start. It was this realization, along with a desire as both a museum educator working with teachers and a parent of a DISD student, that led me to apply to be a fellow in this year’s Leadership ISD program. To be accepted into the program and participate this year has been an immensely rewarding, heartening, and humbling experience.

Helmed by Patricia Arvanitis and an amazing group of staff and volunteers, Leadership ISD is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering knowledgeable citizen advocates for the Dallas Independent School District, ultimately serving as a growing group who can help all students achieve and thrive.

From September through May, we forty-two LISD Fellows attended a series of monthly seminars each focusing on a different issue DISD schools and students face, including the opportunity gap, early childhood education, and buildings and facilities. Those may sound like dry topics, but the activities and conceptualizing that went into each proved to be fascinating. For the training on buildings and facilities, we began the day in groups charged with this question: what would an ideal school look like? As each group brainstormed and later shared their ideas, it became clear that our approaches focused on different ways of tackling the idea: one group considered what might be done with the empty school buildings already owned by DISD, while another group considered a perfect school developed around different educational models.

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One of the benefits of being part of the Leadership ISD is hearing from an array of knowledgeable voices. As part of our monthly meetings we had opportunities to discuss issues with parents, teachers, experts from organizations like Uplift Education, Momentus Institute, and Teach For America, and key figures like school board members, Superintendent Mike Miles, and Mayor Mike Rawlings. At such times we were encouraged to ask probing questions and critically evaluate whatever data was presented.

Beyond these monthly seminars, though, was the real meat of being a LISD Fellow. As part of our participation we were required to attend school visits, DISD board meetings, and participate in a Practicum project assigned to a specific school. These “on the ground” activities not only engaged us in a more individual way with the issues schools, teachers, and students are facing, but empowered us to create active and ongoing results for all involved.

IMG_20150508_141712As our year has wrapped up, two different things have been dominating my mind. First, after almost every seminar, meeting, and practicum discussion I was involved with, I always walked away with the sense that the issues schools, teachers, and districts are facing are immensely complicated. There are no easy solutions. The more I learned, the more complicated each topic appeared. Yet, this feeling was always tempered by an extreme sense of hope, of participation as a step amid these complicated issues, to chart a path through them. This second feeling — hope — is one that any of us can have by getting involved and informed.  If you are so inclined — and I hope you are — consider applying to be one of Leadership ISD’s Fellows next year, won’t you? The deadline to apply is June 1st!

Josh Rose
Manager of Docent and Teacher Programs

Touch Tour for Students with Vision Impairment

Many people may not think that of an art museum as the ideal field trip location for a group of children with visual impairment, but when the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) contacted the DMA earlier this summer with such a tour request, we were eager to provide the best experience possible. When discussing the visit with vision teachers at DISD, they felt it was important to expose their students to art and wanted an experience that would illustrate to the students that they too have the ability to create and appreciate art just as well as any other student.

DISD students with vision impairments visiting the DMA.

DISD students with vision impairments visiting the DMA.

The Planning Process
The Dallas Museum of Art has never before offered guided touch tours to visitors with visual impairment, but after speaking with our Director of Exhibition Design, we learned that she fully supports inclusive gallery teaching, and thus was open to supporting the Museum’s first ever touch tour. We talked with our colleagues in the exhibitions and conservation departments and found that they too were fully supportive of trying out a touch tour with the DISD students. The DMA Sculpture Garden was identified as the best place for our inaugural touch tour, since the objects in the garden are designed for an outdoor space and are thus subject to (and able to withstand) a variety of natural elements. We also felt that it was essential for the students to have the galleries to themselves during the tour, so as not to confuse other visitors about the acceptability of touching works of art, as well as for the overall comfort of the students with vision impairment. We therefore decided to schedule the touch tour for a Monday, when the Museum is closed to the public.

Our next step in the planning process was to walk through the space as a group, making note of areas that may be problematic for someone with vision impairment to navigate. The team was comprised of education, conservation, and exhibitions staff, and everyone on the team raised thoughtful questions and contributed wonderful ideas! We discussed which works of art may be the best for a tactile experience, and our conservators suggested that the kids have the chance to touch the works of art without gloves (which is usually unheard of in other touch tours!). Our exhibitions team offered to wash and hand-clean the works we selected so that they would be nice and clean for the experience. And one conservator suggested we select works of art that were large enough to be touched by more than one student at a time, so that the students could talk to one another about what they felt as they each touched the artwork.

After squaring things away with the exhibitions and conservation teams, the education team began planning the educational experiences of the tour. We prepared for twenty-five students, ranging in age from six to thirteen years, all with a range of visual impairment. The majority of students in the group had some residual vision, while two students were very photophobic, and two were blind from birth. Due to the range of abilities of our tour group, our education team knew it was important to include a variety of artworks in the tour (in addition to those on the touch tour), integrate many descriptive explanations of works of art and hands-on activities, and to have numerous tactile objects available.

In the Galleries
When designing the overall tour, we selected a variety of objects that spanned time periods, artistic techniques, and geographic locations. We visited two contemporary art sculptures in the Sculpture Garden for the touch portion, two Abstract Expressionist works in the contemporary gallery, and a mask in the African gallery. Our aim was to engage all of the senses throughout our tour, as we believe that presenting multiple representations of content would effectively cater to the different learning styles of the group. We created a multi-modal experience by collecting auditory clips for sound stimulation, tactile materials and replica objects for touch, Jelly Belly jelly beans for taste sensations, and essential oils and scented colored pencils for olfactory information.

Each stop on the tour had a visual description of the gallery space and of the works of art we focused on, because it was important for us to situate ourselves, the children, and the art in space, as the sense of bodily awareness in space is something that many people without vision impairment may take for granted. Much of our time in the galleries was spent guiding students in tactile looking activities connected to specific works of art and facilitating conversations about texture and form. For instance, we created a reproduction of Jasper John’s Device so that the students could not only touch canvas and feel layers of paint, but they could also replicate moving the wooden stretchers back and forth across the canvas, while imagining the technique in which Johns spread the paint back and forth.

In the African galleries, we focused on a helmet mask made by the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and passed around raffia, cowrie shells, feathers and other materials found in the mask. Additionally, we played sound clips of the various animals that related to the mask.

Helmet mask (Mukenga), Kuba peoples, mid-20th century, Dallas Museum of Art, gift in honor of Peter Hanszen Lynch and Cristina Martha Frances Lynch

Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples, Helmet mask (mukenga),  mid-20th century, Dallas Museum of Art, gift in honor of Peter Hanszen Lynch and Cristina Martha Frances Lynch

Relating to Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park No. 29, we discussed how an artist could depict a place using sounds, smells, and taste. The students each ate a jelly bean and imagined the color they believed the flavor might represent. Next, they used a scented colored pencil to illustrate a place based on that smell. We also played sound clips of ocean waves and boat horns to recreate the Santa Monica locale that inspired Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series.

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park 29, 1970

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park 29, 1970, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated

Our tour concluded with a sensory drawing activity that took place at the large fountain outside the Museum’s Flora Street entrance. The students listened to the sounds created by the water in the fountain, and considered how the water (and space around it) might appear, what color the water would be, even how the smell would be rendered. We gave each student a piece of thin Styrofoam and a pencil to create their drawing of the fountain; the students were able to feel the indented lines they drew onto the Styrofoam and took turns sharing their creations with one another.

Until Next Time
This was an exceptional experience for DISD students, teachers, and DMA staff alike. One teacher who helped to organize this visit said that this experience “might be the only time this whole summer [the students] get this opportunity to learn tactually, through their auditory channels and their residual vision, which sighted people take so much for granted.” It was a transformative experience as well for our Museum. We are honored to have been a part of this experience, and cannot celebrate enough the fantastic support and collaboration exhibited by DMA staff from many different departments. A huge thank you to DISD for bringing their students, and a thousand thank you’s to the DMA’s conservation, exhibitions, visitor services, and security teams. This was a team effort and we appreciate the unified support and assistance—let’s hope this is the first of many touch tours to come!

Amanda Blake
Head of Family, Access, and School Experiences

Danielle Schulz
Teaching Specialist

Meet the DMA’s Teen Docents

The 2012-2013 DMA Teen Docents.

If you have spent any time at the DMA this summer, you may have noticed teenagers in gray DMA T-shirts leading groups through the galleries. These aren’t just any teenagers, though—they are our dedicated DMA Teen Docents. The Teen Docent program has been going strong since 2001, and this summer we have our largest group ever. Thirty-one high school students are spending their summer vacation at the Museum, and we are thrilled to have them with us.

Our Teen Docents come from across the Metroplex, attending school at TAG Townview Magnet, Episcopal School of Dallas, Ursuline Academy, Greenhill School, Fulton School, Plano West, Plano Senior High, Cedar Hill Collegiate High, Jasper High, Vines High, Lovejoy High, Mesquite High, and Lake Highlands High. We even have one volunteer who lives in Bryant, Texas, but is spending the summer in Dallas so she can be a Teen Docent. Talk about dedication!

Teen Docents Sahil and Jennifer look on as students re-create Fernand Leger’s “The Divers.”

The requirements to be a Teen Docent are simple: you have to be in high school, you must be available to volunteer for a total of twelve hours over the summer, and you have to love talking about art with kids. Our Teen Docent application asks what our applicants hope to gain from their experience volunteering at the Museum. Their answers always astound me because their passion and excitement shine through. Here are just a few of their responses:

  • “I have always loved the DMA since the very first time I went in third grade, and I am SUPER excited to be a Teen Docent!”—Grace
  • “I want to be a Teen Docent so I can be the catalyst for learning in the Museum. I can rise to the challenge of engaging diverse audiences in creative ways. I can be the bridge between visitors and the Museum.”—Sahil
  • “I have grown up surrounding myself with art, with my first art class at age five. Ever since, I have gained a passion for art and to share this with other people would be great!”—Vickie
  • “I love having the opportunity to be at the DMA and get kids interested not just in art but simply looking at things in a different way and thinking about the world around them.”—Becky
  • “I really have a great time volunteering at the DMA. It’s one of my favorite places in Dallas and I love learning about the art and sharing that knowledge with future art enthusiasts!”—Sarah

Not only are the Teen Docents passionate, but they’re also really creative. Just look at what they made during a Creativity Challenge in June.

Teen Docent Jasmine helps a visitor write a postcard.

As the summer comes to a close, I want to publicly thank our Teen Docents for their hours of service to the DMA this year. Between leading tours, volunteering at Late Nights, and assisting in a myriad of roles on First Tuesdays, these teenagers go above and beyond when it comes to volunteering at the DMA.

Shannon Karol is Manager of Docent Programs and Gallery Teaching.

Ordinary to Extraordinary: A Short Story about Chairs

“Success in your career begins in an ordinary classroom, in an ordinary chair.”
— Diana Maldonado, grade 11, Skyline High School (DISD)

 

Standard-issue classroom chairs

It is a good thing to see the world from a different point of view every now and then.  We can stand and walk in someone else’s shoes, but what is it like to sit in someone else’s chair? What if the seat of this chair rises only fourteen inches above the ground?  I recently had the opportunity to take a seat in these small-size chairs while visiting pre-K and kindergarten classrooms at Dealey Montessori, Medrano Elementary, and Urban Park Elementary in DISD. Two 11th grade students from Skyline High School, Yvonne and Lauren, joined me during the visits to interview several young students who sit in fourteen-inch chairs every day at school.

For me, sitting in one of these chairs is a little bit magical.  The world is scaled down and tiny – chalkboards hang at a lower level, tables are shorter, and objects on the lowest bookshelf (which seem to require a further reach) are more colorful and interesting.  The chair-sitting experience  may also be magical for the students who sit in these small chairs every day as they get used to going to school, learn to write, and make new friends. Chairs are an important part of the school day.  They are a place to sit and rest, but also a place to participate in important and creative work.  Students shared with Lauren, Yvonne, and me various examples of the work they do in their chairs:

  • learning to read books
  • making a lion mask
  • practicing writing letters and words
  • drawing butterflies, ice cream cones, and hearts
  • singing with friends
  • painting
  • counting numbers

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Our visits to schools are part of a larger partnership project between the Dallas Museum of Art and the Architecture Cluster at Skyline High School.  Lauren and Yvonne are just two among more than eighty Skyline Architecture Cluster students who created an amazing installation now on view in the Center for Creative Connections.  The installation, Sculpting Space: 299 Chairs, features fourteen-inch, standard-issue classroom chairs in all colors as the primary material.  The Skyline students have transformed ordinary chairs into extraordinary chair assemblages that sculpt the space of one gallery.  Museum visitors move through the space, walking under and around clusters of chairs.  Look for more information in the coming weeks about Skyline’s unique installation on the blog Uncrated.

Google Sketch-Up model for a chair assemblage that reflects the spatial concept, "fluent"

Early in the partnership project, Skyline students and their teachers, Peter Goldstein and Tom Cox, had the brilliant idea to get “used” chairs from three DISD elementary schools.  They were interested in chairs with stories to tell — marked-up with years of scratches and crayon scribbles.  The DMA purchased hundreds of new chairs, and then Skyline students swapped the new chairs for old chairs at Dealey, Medrano, and Urban Park.  As part of the process, the elementary school students were invited to draw their chairs, write about them, and think about all of the many things they do while seated in the classroom.  Video interviews with pre-K and kindergarten students about their chairs are included with the DMA installation.   Special thanks to the teachers, students, and staff at Dealey Montessori, Medrano Elementary, and Urban Park in DISD for being a part of this wonderful partnership!

“The one true connection we have made was with the chairs and when we were little kids.  They bring back memories of our childhood.  We also have a connection to the students who once sat in these chairs where they did their work, and colored and painted.”
Luis Garcia, grade 10, Skyline High School (DISD)


Nicole Stutzman
Director of Teaching Programs and Partnerships

 


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