“Close your eyes and imagine the night sky. Are you camping by a river, snug in your bed with the sheets pulled high, drinking hot cocoa by the wood burning stove? The howl of a barn owl is in the background, or is it a coyote under a full moon? Are the rhododendrons blooming, or is it snowing,” asks Meg Peterson, teaching artist for the Penland School of Crafts Community Collaboration program. This is one of many exercises Meg uses to help third grade students in Mitchell County, North Carolina, connect art and imagination with science in their community.
Penland School of Crafts’s Community Collaboration program works in close coordination with Mitchell County Public School teachers and principals to provide curriculum-integrated arts opportunities to over 500 rurally-based, under-served students in the Appalachian region each year. The experiential arts program teaches new artistic skills and means of expression and supports students and their teachers and principals by engaging multiple learning styles, helping fulfill the NC Standard Course of Study, and enriching school culture by promoting confidence and self-esteem among students of all backgrounds. “Studies are finding… using art as a teaching tool helps students learn, makes them more creative and improves their overall success in school,” writes T.S. Donahoe of Artsee magazine.
Currently, third grade students are completing their Moon Journal projects with the close of the January/February moon cycle. The Moon Journals help third graders learn astronomy by making meaningful connections through art with the world around them. Not only do students paint, fold, bind, illustrate, and write in journals handmade from scratch, but they persistently record scientific observations about the moon each night for an entire lunar period. “It was hard to learn so many facts about the moon – before this project I never really paid attention,” commented a 3rdgrade student about the Moon Journal project.
One goal of the project is to develop a supportive community of discovery. Within the classroom students help other students overcome difficult steps in the bookmaking process. They also share their ideas and observations about the moon with the class. Even the teachers get involved working side by side with students to make their own Moon Journal project. One 3rd grade teacher commented, “I was surprised by how healing doing the collage was. I started out really stressed out and calmed down while working on my collage. I was okay for the rest of the day.” Outside the classroom assignments bring the whole family together in observation and connection with the moon and the outdoors.
Penland School of Crafts is incredibly thankful for local support and involvement over the years and hopes that this and other Community Collaboration programs will serve to give back to the community.