Walking down the hallways of Notre Dame Preparatory School is something like wandering through a gallery. The walls are lined with paintings and drawings of various sizes and subjects – and undeniable quality.
At NDP, art classes often offer more than instruction and practice in the techniques of creating art. In some classes, curricula that stresses the importance of service, as well as artistic exploration, gives students a new way to think about art and its role in their lives.
Art department chair Anne Walker explains that, “part of our mission is to offer opportunities for students to learn about how they might transform the world through whatever medium they’re using, whether it’s writing or art or research” or something else entirely.
Seniors Zarina Davies and Liz Liberatore are taking an art studio class that explicitly connects service with art. During the class, students identify and work with a community partner, finding ways to integrate art and service.
This year, the focus of the class is on the subject of “home and displacement.” “We study the topic of home and displacement through the lens of art as transformation, which is so fitting to our school mission of transformation,” says Walker.
Senior Zarina Davies’ community partner is Refugee Youth Project, a northeast Baltimore organization that helps young people who have recently arrived in the area. She has worked with RYP for several years; this year, she and two other girls are working with a group of 15 to 20 elementary school-aged students, mentoring them through reading and other activities.
As a part of her art class, she will work with the students on an art piece that relates to the subject of home and displacement. Though much of her art uses photography as a medium, for this project, she is considering a mural addressing the young students’ ideas of home.
“Working with Refugee Youth Project has expanded my vision,” she says. “I can see things from their perspective.”
Liz Liberatore, also a senior, started attending Habitat for Humanity builds last fall; she and a few other girls are planning to make art pieces focused on the notion of home and displacement and offer them as gifts to the families moving into the newly built homes.
She has also created a multimedia piece, currently hanging in NDP’s gallery, that addresses notions of home, both literal and emotional.
To help students explore the idea of home and displacement, and to figure out how to connect the concept with both service and their art, Walker had the class create “Socratic webs” on the subject. Socratic webs are visual thinking tools that spur creative thinking; they start with one central word or concept and encourage brainstorming and connections to sprout from there.
“We started with the idea of home,” explains Liz Liberatore. “At first, just physical things came up, but then it evolved.”
“It made us think,” adds Zarina Davies. “For most people, home is a place, but for others, they don’t know what home means. Even an animal could be ‘home.’”
Social Service Director Steve Pomplon says that programs like the ones Zarina and Liz are doing correspond to the school’s overall service learning initiatives.
NDP has had a dedicated service office since 1977; it is the oldest independent school office of its kind in the area. Over the four decades the office has been in operation, they have worked with many organizations and have identified a number of ways to integrate service and learning.
Over the past two years, the school has introduced several classes with curricula that explicitly pair education with opportunities for service; this has been done in conjunction with a College Board initiative promoting service learning as a part of AP classes.
Service learning is “an educational paradigm that connects the classroom experience with real-world partnerships, issues and realities,” he says. “The hope with this is that students see how their learning in the classroom corresponds with the lives they lead every minute of every hour of every day.”
Notre Dame Preparatory School is a Catholic, independent college prep school for girls, educating just over 800 girls in grades 6 through 12. For more information about NPD, please visit www.notredameprep.com.
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