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May 28, 1998

Art Education students give classes at Temple Emanu-el

A real learning experience for all

by Susan Hirshorn

For Stephanie Robertson, an Art Education student who graduates next month, teaching in a community setting is "where the action is." She participated in a special project at the Temple Emanu-el-Beth Shalom religious school, teaching art to 15 lively third- and fourth-graders.

"I really enjoyed it. It was a chance to hone my teaching skills while also learning about a community I'd never experienced before."

Ann Cohen, director of the temple school, said, "We felt that bringing in Concordia art students was a good way for the youngsters to have fun while studying Judaism. Artistic expression brings words and stories to life."

The project was a collaboration between the temple and Linda Szabad-Smyth, who teaches Seminar and Practicum in Art Education at the University's Department of Art Education, in the Faculty of Fine Arts. The course develops professional teaching skills by placing students in both alternative and traditional teaching settings.

So far, Smyth's students have taught in public schools, cultural and community centres, hospitals, palliative care units, drop-in centres for teenagers and foster homes for the elderly. "Every setting has different art education needs," she said. "For some, the social interaction might be the primary goal. For others, the overriding objective might be to learn about a specific subject through one or more artistic media. Therefore, a big component of the students' work is to develop a needs assessment, which takes many educational and practical factors into consideration."

At the temple, Robertson and another art education student developed assessments around the need for youngsters to explore, on a personal level, the meaning of various Jewish themes and celebrations. Several artistic projects arose from this, including imaginative wall murals and a hand-made tree to celebrate the Jewish Arbour Day, called Tu Bishvat.

Since neither student was familiar with Jewish customs and holidays, their initial task was research. "The temple has a reading room with a variety of books," Robertson said. "I also held a brainstorming session with the kids, where they discussed and drew anything that came to mind about certain Jewish themes."

With the destruction of so many trees during the ice storm, Tu Bishvat took on a special significance for the youngsters. "They talked about losing their favourite trees at home, and about a collection they'd taken up to plant trees in and around Montreal, as well as the traditional planting in Israel." Modern celebration of Tu Bishvat involves the expression of ecological concerns and peoples' desire to reconnect with nature.

After the brainstorming session, Robertson divided her class into three groups, with each working on a different wall mural. Two of the murals had Tu Bishvat themes; the third represented the children's vision of what the temple might be like in the future.

"I had the kids work with latex-based paint, which is easy to use as well as to clean up. It was fun. I hope they learned as much from me as I learned from them."

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