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Where it's Art

By Heather Miller

"Where it's Art" is an apt slogan for Haliburton. Sir Sanford Fleming's School of Fine Arts has been operating there for 32 years. It's such an idyllic place to study and commune with nature that I jumped at the chance to take part in a summer pilot project offered this year.

With the introduction of The Ontario Curriculum, The Arts, the Haliburton School of Fine Arts decided to offer courses designed specifically for elementary teachers. What I found especially appealing, was the fact that this would be the first time I would teach classes where everyone was a primary teacher. Most often classes combine primary and junior teachers, or more likely everyone from grades one to OAC. The larger mix certainly works, since everything is adaptable, but I relished the thought of being able to really zero in on the details of teaching within a specific division.

I still remember sitting with Chris Lynd, the coordinator of the project, brainstorming how to shape the program. I was thrilled when she asked me , along with Wili and Deline Lottering, teachers from the York Region District School Board, to be part of the teaching team. We were very excited to be part of such a practical approach to teacher in-service. Our excitement grew as the start-up day approached.

The School of Fine Arts is housed in three separate buildings in Haliburton. The original school, which is at the far end of town, is full of studio spaces for things such as clay and weaving. J.D. Hodgson Elementary School is transformed into studio spaces for the duration of the summer, and the High School is completely filled with yet more studios. What a wonderful place for teachers to learn about how to teach art, surrounded on all sides by adults and some children fully immersed in learning the arts for the pure joy of it.

Our room was in the high school and faced into a courtyard. As the week progressed, the courtyard was gradually transformed into a sculpture garden by budding reed weavers. Imagine my surprise when I bumped into an old friend who was busily weaving a garden angel. Judy Royle, a principal with the York Region District School Board, was glowing. "Oh Heather," she sighed, "I had no idea making art could be so thrilling. It's all I want to do!" I laughed as she told about how someone from the office had looked into the garden, projecting mild disapproval at the mess. "We knew we were going to clean it up," exclaimed Judy. She went on to reveal that as a principal, she might have had the same reaction when her teachers were in the throes of creation. "Not > anymore!" she promised.

First thing Monday morning, after a peaceful drive through the glorious countryside, I was greeted by a gregarious and eager group of primary teachers. What a wonderful time we had as a rhythm for the day quickly emerged. We spent the first hour discussing pertinent issues, then we made some art. Later we talked about how to connect what we had done to the classroom. All the projects were practical and hands-on. We dealt with painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking, looking at art and assessment.

Approaches to planning developmental units, and planning for the whole year were also addressed. What I enjoyed the most about this week in Haliburton was the energy and spirit each participant brought to the group. We all learned from each other as people shared their ideas and projects. I was surprised to note that one of the teachers in our class was a retired teacher and artist. Helen Newton had a whole raft of ideas to share, including a mini-lesson she provided on marbleizing paper. Helen decided to take the class so she could learn some new ideas to help teachers when she goes into supply teach. She wanted to be able to take in lessons that are aligned with the new curriculum. Imagine!

It was such a privilege to work with this summer group. They reminded me of how dedicated, professional and inspiring teachers are. There we were, surrounded by nature, and hundreds of other people, all making art. What better way to learn and have a holiday too!?

One of my students wrote recently about the course .... "It was a fantastic experience for me, and very helpful when it came to making my long range plans for visual arts. I have already made two of the enormous circle paintings with my class, and they look great!... they are so beautiful and the kids love them. Thank you for sharing this , along with so many other great ideas! I certainly hope that you are able to offer the course again next year, so that other teachers can benefit! "

I hope so too.

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