A group of students at Quaker Valley High School recently worked together to beautify their school and learn some long-lasting life lessons.
Art students from Robin Russell's classes joined life-skills students from Jason Brindza's classes to create a wall mural that was installed recently in the courtyard garden at the school. Mr. Brindza's former students had created the garden.
It was the first time the two classes had worked together on a project and the students learned a lot -- not only about art, but about working with others, especially others with different skill levels, Mr. Brindza said.
"My students have significant development and cogitative disabilities and therefore, work on varying skill levels.
This collaboration gave them a sense of community while also working on independent life skills," he said, "And it helped the art students learn to work with students with other skill sets."
Mr. Brindza said the garden project started a few years ago when a paraprofessional who worked at the school brought in a praying mantis egg sack.
They put the sack into an unused area in the courtyard of the school and the life skills students followed the progress of the tiny insects.
Soon people started bringing plants in, and the class planted them. A more formal garden program soon developed.
Last year, Mr. Brindza and Ms. Russell starting talking about uniting the two classes in a joint project to create artwork to further beautify the garden area. This school year, the program was launched.
"I started by taking my students out to the area and having them journal about what they envisioned for the space and what a garden meant to them," Ms. Russell said.
Students worked with their student teacher, Katherine Diorio, who helped them transform thoughts into drawings and drawings into a collage.
The life skills students were then invited into the classroom to paint the background of the collage.
In addition to social skills, the art work helps the life-skills students work on motor skills and creativity, Mr. Brindza said.
But it wasn't just the life-skills students who learned to work together.
When Emily Fisk, 16, an art student, first heard about the project, she admitted she thought it was "strange and utterly confusing."
"I thought, 'What are we supposed to be doing? How are we going to paint this big piece of work with everyone's ideas?' " she said.
To her surprise, she enjoyed the project.
"It was really fun. Everyone worked together and was really supportive of each other's ideas," she said, "It helped me get to know my classmates better, and I liked the painting -- I've always liked drawing more."
Ms. Russell said her students really learned to listen to each other, share ideas and to know and understand what a group project entailed.
Luke Kropf, 16, another art student, agreed.
"We really worked together to come up with the whole picture. I thought I wouldn't be allowed to put up some of my ideas and drawings, but I was -- we really did work together," he said.
The mural is about 4 feet by6 feet and was treated to withstand the elements since it hangs outside, Ms. Russell said.
Now that the classes have worked together on this initial project, there may be other collaborative efforts in the future.
"I think it worked out very well," Mr. Brindza said.
"The students are proud of the work and enjoyed it."
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.