“Art just makes things more interesting!”

Chris Harris, editorSupplement to The RecorderGreenfield MA, April 26, 2004, p. 3

. . . says Claire Councilman, who lives in South Deerfield and is an eighth-grader at Greenfield Center School. Claire has made a pastel on black paper of trees in a flood plain for her geography class; she made a three-dimensional garden to illustrate the concept of fractals in math class. For a class called “Self and Other”, she paired up with a student she didn’t know very well and together they made a collage of things they had in common. “I learned about all the things that are important to her,” Claire says, “like friends and horses.”


Jared made his own guitar for his independent project. “It’s completely a dream guitar,” he proudly concluded.

Bob Strachota, who teaches 7th and 8th graders at Greenfield Center School, is a passionate advocate of using the arts as teaching tools “because everybody has different ways of showing what they know. If we stick to pencil and paper, we are just scratching the surface, especially for children who are challenged around literacy.”

Strachota cites as an example a student who has a very hard time talking in front of a group, so he created a computer program that would talk for him while he was acting on the stage. “Purely in the academic sphere, if they understand more deeply about themselves through these projects, then they are more capable of representing themselves in the standard pencil-and-paper types of tasks because they have more access to who they are.”

Every eighth grader writes their own one-act play. They then cast that play with fellow students, direct it, and perform it for an audience at the Shea Theater. “Whatever they write about,” says Strachota, “will show who they are at this point in their life. So there’re kids who write about really tragic kinds of things, and there’re extremely light works as well. It really stretches them to bring out something meaningful.”

“This year one boy felt he had to write four separate plays before he could get one that he felt good about,” says Strachota. “He wound up writing a piece about parents in which he would have little asides that would say, ‘Yes, I know why they’re doing this. I just have to fight them because I’ll need that ability to fight later in my life.’ And it wound up being a very successful work, in fact.”

A culminating experience at Greenfield Center School is the Independent Projects of eighth graders. “I say, ‘The world is your oyster: whatever you do will be great.’ And then I explain that they have to create something and then present it to a body of parents, teachers, and community people who will critique their work. I’ve seen students do everything from learning to roll a kayak to making a web site to constructing a guitar to doing an oil painting. Some people have played music. Two students actually served their critique people meals because they had done cooking over the past two months. It’s very, very impressive. They have to take themselves and their work incredibly seriously, and they have to become confident enough to show it in its best light.”

“All of my projects are oriented toward having students understand who they are and their capacities, and to bolster their confidence,” Strachota says. “I want kids to walk out of here thinking they are great, that they are competent people who can produce in a huge variety of ways.”

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