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Art lesson: 'Let it pour'

A visiting teacher unleashes students' creativity and uses art to teach discipline and teamwork.

Published May 18, 2007



Last week, a stroll down the hallway at Cleveland Elementary School transformed into a voyage along the Oregon Trail. Once plain beige, the walls now crawl with pink covered wagons, a bright blue river, snow-covered buildings and cacti. The mural meant only one thing: Annie Painter was in town, and she brought the West with her.

"Miss Annie Painter!" a second-grader called out to the woman in a vintage pioneer shirt and boots, toting art supplies down the hall.

She didn't know all their names, but they knew hers. Painter traveled all the way from her tiny town called Sisters, in the Central Oregon desert, just to teach them art for a week.

And she didn't just teach students - she showed teachers that there are different ways to learn about things like science, history and language. In using art, she said, kids learn discipline, teamwork and exploration.

Once an award-winning principal in Oregon, Painter now teaches graduate courses and travels the country's elementary schools. Cleveland principal Phyllis Rodriguez and music specialist Nikki Schimdt met her at a teaching conference in Pasadena, Calif., and liked the way she thought.

Three years ago, they secured a state Comprehensive School Reform Grant to pay for her yearly cross-country trips.

Rodriguez has already seen the art program's success in her students.

"It gives them an opportunity to really express themselves. They're moving, they're learning, " Rodriguez said. "That's a powerful way to reach all children, in particular children of high poverty."

One year, Painter did a schoolwide lesson on the color wheel. Another year, she taught about estuaries. And this year's western theme was very familiar to her.

She spent months photographing scenes in her hometown - from community gardens to historic hotels - to use in lessons to replicate a town on the Oregon Trail.

The second-graders made flowers and fruits for the farmer's market. The kindergarten students made quilt replicas. And the fifth-graders completed the town with buildings.

"When it comes to art, " Painter asked a class of 17 fifth-graders, "do you think or say, 'I don't know how to do that?' "

Hands shot up.

"You are exactly like an artist, " she said. "An artist is someone who thinks or invents things that haven't been done before."

She broke the kids up into groups of three and four.

"When you get your assignment, I want you to brainstorm and let it pour, " she told them. "It's a time to be confused and then to clarify."

One group was assigned to create a clothesline to dry pioneer clothes.

"We can make a creek in the back, " Danielle Biggins told her group.

"Yeah, " Champagne Spivey responded. "Right after you wash the clothes, you can hang it up."

Another group had to make a vegetable garden.

"I don't want any carrots in the garden, " Jordan Sills decided.

Tarissa McKay wrinkled her nose in agreement. "Me neither."

In a third group in charge of making a hotel, one kid made the trees, another made the building, but Zachary Clark just sat there with nothing to do.

"Divide the jobs, " Painter told the group. "It's not okay for someone in the team not to have a role."

Zachary began to cut out some snow.

"Training for adulthood, " Painter said. "Design meeting: We've got a problem. We've got a deadline. Does it ring a bell?"

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 226-3354 or

[Last modified May 17, 2007, 07:37:55]

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