Arts with Heart: Inspiring Students to Succeed
When the entire school of students sang Red Grammer’s powerful song, “See Me Beautiful,” there was not one dry eye in the huge audience. “Look for the best in me. It’s what I really am. And all I want to be. Could you find a way to see me shining through in everything I do? See me beautiful.”
That program happened many years ago at Duxberry Park Arts Impact Alternative School, but today Grammer’s song is like an anthem for the hope of offering enriched, arts-inclusive education for all of our children.
Some time after that inspiring performance, I was lucky enough to be part of an unforgettable, life-changing program. Ten fifth-grade classes from Columbus Public Schools had the incredible opportunity to participate each year in DepARTures, a venture sponsored by the Columbus Museum of Art and Columbus schools and coordinated by Carole Genshaft. For 20 years, these fifth-graders enjoyed sessions of poetry, creative writing and visual arts presented by visiting poets and arts instructors, as well as docent visits to each classroom.
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The fifth-graders kept precious journals for their poems and drawings. Each class made a trip to the museum, journals in hand. With their visiting poets and arts instructors, they wrote and sketched—inspired by the works of art in the galleries. Their museum visit culminated in a poetry reading in the auditorium, where each child stood on the stage and read one of the poems written in his or her journal.
We poets and arts teachers visited the museum 10 times per school year! The kids left their journals with us so we could read each one and choose a drawing or poem for inclusion in the DepARTures book that was printed and given to each child at a huge annual celebration involving all 10 classes. The museum exhibited samples of the art created during the year by each class. Every child received the fabulous book, and crowds of families, neighbors and friends filled the auditorium as each of the classes gave a special presentation of their poetry.
In my recent move from house to apartment, I found many treasures (somewhat like an archeological dig). The greatest find was the pile of 20 DepARTure books filled with the feelings, observations, wishes and thoughts of our beautiful children. Twenty years of Columbus Public Schools fifth-graders were in those pages! My greatest wish every year as we celebrated was that such experiences in enriched learning could be possible for all of our kids.
I recall one of my fifth-graders who hugged me goodbye after one celebration and whispered, “Mimi, my art! My art! I LOVE my art!”
The arts help our kids to shine through in everything they do. Like Grammer’s song says, we are so happy to see them beautiful!
Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld is a longtime Columbus arts educator and author who works with children of all ages and encourages them to become creative, lifelong learners.