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Our Garden of Dreams: An Arts-based Alternative Practicum Project
June 6, 2007

Our Garden of DreamsOn Monday, May 7, 19 Trent University teacher candidates, nearing the end of their Bachelor of Education degree, came together to fulfill the last component of their program, an Arts Alternative Practicum lead by Dr. Miriam Davidson. This practicum provided students with an opportunity to develop their understanding and skills related to the conceptualization, development, and implementation of arts outreach programming.

With the current demand on public schools to improve student literacy and numeracy, resources for art specialists can be difficult to obtain. However, if educators begin to envision a more collaborative approach that brings together resources and expertise from community-based arts organizations, local artists, and university faculty and students, great potential for developing exciting arts programs exists. Through these collaborations all participants can gain important skills and experience in a variety of artistic disciplines and methods of delivery. In this case, Trent teacher candidates and Prof. Davidson worked along side local Peterborough artist, John Climenhage, to help 75 students in grades two and three from Prince of Wales Public School to create a series of painted murals on the theme "Our Garden of Dreams". To prepare for the project the Trent pre-service teachers spent four days in intensive workshops where they created small-scale murals in order to gain first hand experience of the steps involved in mural painting.

On Friday, May 11, four classes of children from Prince of Wales Public School came together to begin two weeks of work on the murals. The children designed and created 12 mural panels that are now hanging in the rotunda area entrance of the school. This very busy location houses a school breakfast program and serves as a space where teachers deliver array of special services to children of all ages. Additionally, as one of the main entries to the building it is a thoroughfare for parents and students alike.

The children spent two to three days drawing creatures, plants, flowers, trees, habitats and then they worked as a team to select their favourite images and develop the theme of their individual garden murals. Their drawings were then photocopied onto a transparencies and considerable time was spent projecting, enlarging and tracing the imagery onto the panels and then negotiating the final composition. The children were encouraged to use their imaginative powers to envision gardens that go beyond local flora and fauna. They created murals that reach back in time to prehistoric landscapes, and they stretched beyond their immediate experiences, designing ocean scenes and fantasy gardens. Once the designs were in place the painting began!

Through this project, the children and Trent teacher candidates improved their visual design, composition, drawing and painting skills. Just as importantly, the project encouraged and required positive collaboration, team-work, open communication, perseverance and pride in craftsmanship – all qualities that support the goals of Kawartha Pine Ridge School District’s Character Education initiatives.

To celebrate the students’ efforts, on the last day of the project, a closing ceremony was held where students’ planted Peace Lilies, Hibiscus and Ivy plants into brightly painted wooden containers. Each child received a packet of seeds to begin their own dream gardens and Certificates of Achievement that included the wise words of artist Henri Matisse, "Creativity takes courage".

The Art Gallery of Peterborough has invited the group to exhibit the murals, as well as documentation of the process, beginning November 4, 2007 through January 4, 2008. Students and their families will be invited to an opening ceremony for this exhibition.

As a teacher/researcher Prof. Davidson is interested in both facilitating and evaluating the impact that collaborative arts enrichment projects of this sort can have on school climate and student engagement in learning and school life. Her research helps educators to better understand the ways that such initiatives can support best practices in teaching and learning and support generalists teachers’ understanding of arts education program development and delivery.

An Academic Innovation Fund Grant, in conjunction with Trent Research Start Up Funds and a private donation, supported materials and equipment costs for this project, and a second arts outreach/research project entitled Photography and Storytelling in the Intermediate Classroom being led by Dr. Miriam Davidson and Dr. Mary Ladky.

If you are interested in learning more about these projects please email miriamdavidson@trentu.ca