Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington recently held an event for educators with Remake Learning to highlight the importance of integrating art into education.
Allie Mullins, the Pittsburgh area rural outreach coordinator for Remake Learning, said their mission is to engage educators in innovative, relevant and equitable learning practices that benefit their students.
“There’s a heavy focus on connecting the dots between art and education - not as a supplemental, but as part of their actual curriculum,” she said.
Lindsay Ketterer Gates, executive director at Touchstone, said they want the community to see Touchstone as a source for the arts and they are excited to have educators and other groups to their campus who operate with that same philosophy.
Dean Simpson, community relations coordinator at Touchstone, unveiled a project at the event where they collaborated with students in the media department at Connellsville Area High School to put together a promotional video from information provided to the students from Touchstone.
Additionally, Touchstone offered scholarships to two of the students involved in putting together the promotional video so that those students could return to campus to create a second video highlighting the one-week intensive art camp.
Sarah Skoric, a teacher at Connellsville Area High School and also worked with the media students on the promotional video, said she came in contact with Touchstone representatives at the school’s grand opening of the new Falcon Productions Studio in 2017.
“Touchstone toured the center with the Fayette County Cultural Trust, and they suggested the possibility of working together, which I quickly embraced,” she said. “I strongly support working with the community and find it very beneficial for my students.”
“We want to show that we can be an extension for resources that you might not have within the school,” Simpson said.
Skoric said when schools and communities work together, the students are provided with well-rounded educational experiences, and they’re also exposed to new opportunities.
“Building a bridge between school and community allows the student a more successful transitions into real-world situations, and I also believe these connections raise a more civic-minded student,” she said.
“The opportunity of working with Touchstone has allowed my students a deeper level of critical thinking beyond the classroom,” Skoric added. “The students have been able to take the lessons they have learned in the studio and create their own independent project.”
Karen Babyak, a science teacher at Frazier School District, said she somehow found herself as the head of the high school’s art club.
“I never knew this place (Touchstone) was here until about four years ago,” she said.
But since then, Babyak has taken a group of art club students to the campus for a field trip, and she has also participated in the educators immersive art week.
“The week was open to all educators, not just art educators, and what was really neat is that I think those who weren’t art educators got the most out of it and learned ways on how to bring art into their subject matter that they focus on teaching,” she said.
One of her co-workers, Melissa Stairs, who teaches Spanish at Frazier High School, said arts have always been a very important part of her life, and she does try to integrate it where she can in her classes.
“Our high school is very limited in what we can offer through the arts program, so I know this outreach has an impact,” Stairs said. “When I came here (to Touchstone) for the educators retreat week, I was put in the position of a student again, and I really think that helped refresh my eyes to a student’s perspective.
“What they are learning is challenging - it’s not easy to do and I think we lose sight of that sometimes as an educator,” she added.
Melissa Davenport, an artist from Scottdale, visits schools around the area to help with many different programs.
“I can see how art can really fill voids in a student’s life,” she said. “When there are certain aspects of math or science that a student can’t quite figure out, if you bring art into it, it somehow connects with them in a way that makes them understand the concept.”
Chelsie Fike, an elementary teacher at Albert Gallatin, also took part in the educators art week.
“I’ve been able to incorporate textures and creative thinking in my students’ play time, and I think the networking experience with other professionals in the area was wonderful,” she said.
Ketterer Gates said it’s not always about the learning in the classroom at Touchstone, but “It’s in the spaces in between where we learn through conversations at lunch or over the campfire.”
Bailey Lemansky, a ninth-grade student at Laurel Highlands High School, took part in the teen week camp at Touchstone this past summer and said she loved her experience.
“Everyone improves at a certain pace, and even though my work might not have been up to par with the more experience artists, my art in my eyes is very good,” she said. “I did the best I could do and I’m very happy with what I’ve created.”
Taney Basinger, a sophomore at Connellsville Area High School, also took part in the teen week experience and said it was one of the highlights of her summer.
“My generation is so connected to our devices and what I loved about the experience here is that there was hardly any cell service, so it really encouraged you to unplug and focus on creating and learning and having conversations with those around you,” she said.
Ryan McWilliams, a student from Frazier High School, said that while he does love music, he never considered himself someone who was overly involved in the arts, but as part of Frazier’s art club, he came to Touchstone as part of the club’s field trip.
“I then came here for teen week, and it was a great experience,” he said. “There aren’t may big opportunities like this in the area.”
Skoric said integrating and exposing students to art can enhance the overall educational process for students.
“Art allows students to be creative and use their imagination to think outside of the box,” she said. “It improves communication skills, problem-solving and allows the students to see different point-of-view in not only art projects but also in the classroom setting.”