Roslindale Neighbors: JP’s Eliot School brings art to Rozzie students

October 26, 2012
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By Abigail Norman, Special to the Gazette

For the first time in recent memory, all Boston Public School students in Roslindale will have art classes this year. This milestone comes, in part, through the hard work of Jamaica Plain’s Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts, which is spearheading the efforts of principals, art teachers, parents and community groups who believe that art should be a consistent part of education for every child.

Colorful products of the students’ creativity will be on display at Roslindale Open Studios on Sat., Nov. 3 at the Boston Centers for Youth & Families Roslindale Community Center at 6 Cummins Highway in Roslindale Square. Bates, Conley, Haley, Irving, Mozart, Philbrick, Sumner and Brooke Charter schools will be represented, along with MusiConnects, Making Music Matters and the Boys & Girls Club at the Sumner.

Julio Fuentes of Roslindale, whose daughter Emilia attends Philbrick Elementary School, applauds what has come to be known as the Roslindale Arts Initiative.

“My daughter is flourishing in art class. She talks about it at home, and her pride and creativity are so important to me,” he said. Fuentes also teaches woodworking through the Initiative at several participating schools. On the sidelines at the recent Roslindale Parade, Fuentes was loudly cheered by Conley Elementary students passing by.

“They especially loved making little wooden boats with rubber-band propellers,” Fuentes said.

Printmaker Ellen Shattuck Pierce teaches art classes through the Eliot at Irving Middle School. A highlight each spring is a skateboard project in which students decorate wheel-less skateboards with their own personal iconography. The students learn to redo their work until it expresses their desires. The results are colorful, graphic and bold.

“It’s impossible to overstate the importance for these students of learning that it’s great to take intelligent risks, fail, erase, and try again until they reach their goals,” said Pierce. “It’s the opposite of testing. There’s no wrong answer, just a zigzag path toward mastery. Their work is beautiful. It’s exciting to see them work hard and succeed.”

Some Roslindale schools have full or part-time BPS art teachers. Others contract to bring Eliot School and other teaching artists in during the school day. The two groups work together seamlessly.

As part of the initiative, both BPS art teachers and outside teaching artists have been meeting for over a year to develop a new visual arts curriculum for grades K-8. Art teachers visit each others’ classrooms to share best practices. Principals are also meeting to strategize. The BPS Arts Office is listening carefully to the group, whose work is partially funded by the Linde Family Foundation and BPS Arts Expansion Initiative, which aims to restore art education in all Boston Public Schools.

Students in Roslindale’s elementary schools bypass the middle school lottery and have automatic acceptance at Irving Middle School. The BPS system has announced it hopes to establish similar K-8 clusters elsewhere in the city under whatever new neighborhood schools re-organization model it eventually adopts. Nicole Murray, Director of the Eliot’s School Partnership Program, says the Roslindale Arts Initiative helps pave a coherent pathway for students from the neighborhood’s elementary schools to its sole middle school.

The Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts offers training, classes and workshops in crafts and fine arts for children and adults at their schoolhouse in Jamaica Plain, and in Boston’s public schools. Its School Partnership Program reached over 1,200 children with high quality visual arts and woodworking classes in the past school year, in Roslindale and beyond. For more information, see eliotschool.org.

The writer is the director of the Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts.

(Photo by Kim Lockwood) (from left) Irving Middle School students Salanta Depina, Justin Wright, Diane Metellus and friends show skateboards with art they created through the Roslindale Arts Initiative.