Helen Tyson Middle School art teacher Lori West was recently honored at the Arkansas Declaration of Learning Celebration at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock where her project idea was recognized as “Best of the Best” in the state of Arkansas.
The Declaration of Learning is an initiative signed into legislation by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The idea was for teachers across the United States to have the opportunity to work with historic art and objects from national and state partners to create innovative lessons for their classrooms and school libraries. With partners like Crystal Bridges and the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Arkansas was the first state to sign on and make this project come to life.
West and a team of teachers from this region sat down at Crystal Bridges in June of 2015 and brainstormed ways to use object-based learning in their classrooms to inspire and engage students.
Each of the participants in the program was asked to select three objects, one from each of the museum collections, Crystal Bridges, the Butler Center and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. West chose “The Anti Slavery Medallion”, Kerry James Marshall’s “Our Town” and “The Little Rock Nine.”
“I chose these pieces because I noticed a common thread in all three and that was that each work was actually outlining a journey of sort and that is where our classroom story began,” said West.
West initiated her lesson by asking students to create a portfolio that showed the theme of civic engagement conveyed in the pieces of art by choosing a cause or issue that was important to them and then visually interpret it.
Once the students came up with their ideas and drawings, West was attracted to one particular idea created by seventh grader A.J. Antibos.
“A.J., a Marshallese student, created a work of art that drew attention to the issues of climate change, and the fact that the rising sea level was quickly eroding his home land and when I saw his idea it gave me chills and I knew that was the direction we were going to head with this project,” said West.
West and her students took A.J.’s idea and ran with it. Lori was given the opportunity to use the 100’ x 16’ storage building on the Helen Tyson Campus for a mural and after a nifty idea of tracing the student’s shadows on the building to represent the Marshallese people, the project was named “Shadow of a Journey.”
“Seeing it all come together was amazing , said West. “The impact on our community has been very powerful.”
The mural the students at Helen Tyson created is proudly on display on the campus and West knows that this project and this journey will stick with her for a lifetime.
“As an educator, this project was an experience of a lifetime,” said West