Art in school enhances learning

Glass class

Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2006


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  Jim Kaiser helps Sadie Fox solder a window decoration during an arts lesson at Redoubt Elementary School last week. The stained glass creator is an artist-in-residence at the school this month. Photo by M. Scott Moon

A third-grader positions pieces of glass before connecting them.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Through his involvement with the Artists in Schools Program, Girdwood artist Jim Kaiser has had the opportunity to travel all over Alaska. This month, Kaiser is at Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna, where he’s teaching students the art of working with stained glass.

“I enjoy teaching very much, but it disturbs me when kids are more creative than I ever hope to be, and they do it on a lot of occasions,” Kaiser said last week while touching up some student projects at Redoubt.

The Artists in Schools Program has been an important part of the Alaska State Council on the Art’s art education for more than 20 years, according to Susan Olson, who coordinates the program.

“It’s a very significant program of the Alaska State Council on the Arts. They say it is the centerpiece of their arts education,” Olson said.

The Artists in Schools Program is made possible through a partnership between the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Rasmuson Foundation — meaning that funding for the program comes from a combination of state, federal and private sources.


Jim Kaiser helps Sadie Fox solder a window decoration during an arts lesson at Redoubt Elementary School last week. The stained glass creator is an artist-in-residence at the school this month.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Cindy Hurst, a third-grade teacher at Redoubt, is coordinating the program at her school.

Hurst said she got the ball rolling by applying for a grant from the Artists in Schools Program. Each participating school must come up with matching funds, and then contact an artist from the program’s talent bank.

“Mr. Kaiser had visited our school as an Artist in Residence (in 1996), and we were trying to reintroduce this program back into our school,” Hurst said. “... Stained glass is a medium students don’t get exposed to, so they’re really enjoying the experience. One of the things we’re really pleased with is that our artist is having every student, from kindergarten through sixth grade, participate in this program.”

Kaiser said working with stained glass had been a lifelong dream, but he actually got his start when he was hired by a Colorado studio to hang Sheetrock in 1973. Kaiser was kept on at the studio and did fabrication work on six windows designed for Colorado’s centennial and the country’s bicentennial in 1976. Those windows are in the Colorado state Capitol.

Kaiser made his way to Alaska in 1977, eventually landing in Girdwood and opening a studio.

“I’ve been going out of business at the same location since 1977,” Kaiser said.

Under Kaiser’s supervision, students at Redoubt are learning the whole process of working with stained glass, from designing a piece to soldering it together.

“It’s a joy to break glass correctly,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser said he varies his approach depending upon the age of his students.

“I present the older kids with a design, then I allow them, if they want, to change the pieces and do their own concept,” Kaiser said.

Younger students, Kaiser said, cut out pieces of glass and then arrange the glass themselves.

Through the process, he stresses respect — for the materials and tools as well as for classmates and teachers.

“That’s the most important thing they can learn,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser said learning how to work with different tools and developing a new skill can have other benefits.

“Through that, I feel they gain self-confidence,” Kaiser said. “... When they realize that they have the ability to do it, you can see it in their faces. It’s really fun — ‘Oh, I did it!’”

Olson said the lessons learned through art are applicable to all areas of education.

“It really helps all learning across the board. I really applaud schools that participate in this program because they recognize that and value it,” Olson said.

Last year, 40 schools statewide hosted artists through the Artists in Schools Program. For the current fiscal year, the number is down just a little to 36.

Other Kenai Peninsula schools also are hosting artists. Shala Dobson is at Nikiski North Star Elementary School this month after a residence at Nikolaevsk School earlier in the school year. In Homer, the Bunnell Street Gallery and McNeil Canyon Elementary School each received grants to run independent programs.

Application deadlines for next year are approaching, Olson said. The next deadline is April 1.

According to information provided by Olson, arts education: engages a wide variety of learning styles; fosters higher-order thinking skills; encourages students to strive for excellence; teaches creativity; and can create enthusiasm for learning in the classroom.

Hurst said she enjoys seeing students blossom as they try an art project.

“Each child is so different. For some of them, the hands-on experience, for a visual learner, is a great opportunity for them,” Hurst said. “... It’s really, really fun to see them with the self-discovery, that they’re capable and that they’re able to create a piece of work this way.”


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