CAPE Classrooms: Stepping Stones… A Pathway to Parents

 In Michelle Green Arnson, The CAPE Blog

At New Sullivan Elementary, near 83rd and Lake Shore Drive, the visual art lead teacher Tracy Netter has been partnering for four years with long-time CAPE teaching artist Juan-Carlos Perez. They have worked diligently together to weave visual arts into the literacy curriculum in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms, to great success. They have also expanded their work beyond the scope of their projects with students to bring parents into the school to create art and a sense of community. Juan-Carlos recently related a moving story from this parent program:

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New Sullivan art teacher Tracy Netter demonstrates how to cut mosaic tile

“Last year at New Sullivan parents created four mosaic stepping stones. They had never done anything like it. Parents spent three weeks and fully invested themselves into the project. They were involved in the brainstorming, creative design as well as the cutting of the tiles and grouting. There was also an opportunity where students were also able to work a bit on the mosaics with the direction of the parents. The stepping stones were unveiled for the community at the school graduation.”

At the same time this project was taking place, the Principal was making an effort to bring together the diverse and disconnected populations that exist in the school. In this changing Chicago neighborhood socio-economics, ethnicity and language are barriers to parent interactions. The school administration welcomed the Stepping Stone Project as way to bring together parents at the school.

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Juan-Carlos watches as parents work to piece together the first of their four mosaic stepping stones

Juan Carlos continued, “All of a sudden a couple of the parents decided to say a few words to the school community. They expressed being amazed, excited and overwhelmed by the opportunity to take on this mosaic project, even with no prior knowledge or experience. Their message to the rest of the parents was that this created an opportunity for them to become a part of the school community. They felt this experience created an opportunity for them to interact with students in a positive manner and in a role that was something other than ‘Parent.’ It also gave students a different creative perspective of their parents. It ignited a passion for the school and the arts and helped build a bond with the school that they never had before.

Their message to the students was that they should always be ready and willing to take on a challenge- that even though they are parents and old by their children’s standards, there are still many experiences out there that can enrich life. They took on something new and did not let fear get in the way. They expressed to the students that, though they are older, they still continue to be students of this world.

The response was amazing. The parents received a roar of applause, cheers, tears and standing ovation.”

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One of the stepping stones, near completion

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