At the Barnes, teachers of all subjects learn about art education

Participants came from as far away as California.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

For the ninth year in a row, the Barnes Foundation hosted the Summer Teacher Institute to help educators from Philadelphia and beyond use art to enhance their classroom instruction.

This four-day course at the end of July gives teachers tools they can use in their classrooms to help students think more critically. Teachers can earn two Act 48 credits toward their continuing education requirements.

This year, the program attracted nine teachers to the four-day workshops. Most were from Philadelphia, though the program is national. One of the attendees was from California. Most said they benefited and looked forward to taking it again next year.

The participants studied the artwork in the galleries, created art themselves, and learned how to apply to the classroom what they have learned.

Filmmaker and educator Nuala Cabral and teaching artist Sannii Crespina-Flores were among those who led workshops about how to integrate different types of art into teaching.

The program is first-come, first-serve and costs teachers $295.

Jennifer Nadler, director of the Barnes’ preK-12 and education outreach program, said the program appeals to more than just art teachers.

“We definitely have art teachers that come to see us, who may have a background in creating art but they may not be that comfortable talking about art,” Nadler said. “Especially for teachers that are in other content areas, that might specialize in English language arts, or science or social studies, they might be intimidated by the artworks, they might feel like they need to know everything about Paul Cezanne. Really the learning experience is getting the students to discover and learn.”

Nadler said that over the years, the program has evolved from being more focused on art teachers to being more welcoming to other disciplines and oriented toward social justice.

“We feel like – especially at an institution like the Barnes Foundation that has a predominantly European collection – we feel like when you walk into a collection like this and you see mostly Renoir and Cezanne, that we want to make sure all students feel accessible here,” Nadler said. “We’ll bring in artists from the community and art from other collections to be able to compare and contrast.”

Michael Thomas, a math teacher at Christopher Columbus Charter School, said that just because he is learning about art doesn’t mean he cannot use it in math class.

“Many people block it in – this is just art, this is just math. … I’ve had a few people ask, ‘why are you going to an art museum when you’re a math teacher?’” Thomas said. “There’s just a plethora of things that I see that I could easily tie into my classroom here.”

Rebecca Yacker, an English teacher at Roxborough High School, said the program gave her a greater range of tools to use with her students.

“Just kind of brush up on your art, and bring it back to your students and enrich their education,” Yacker said. “The program, it gets you excited about being here, but also bringing that knowledge and different strategies back to the classroom.”

Mary Frances Cummings, who teaches dental hygiene at the University of Pennsylvania, loved the program and looked forward to incorporating it into her teaching.

“I’ll definitely bring more arts into a very dry and anatomical subject of dentistry,” Cummings said. “Even with the medical arts, you have to be able to see depth in people or you’re not going to do as good a job. It’s definitely not a flat canvas in dentistry, and this brings it out more.”

Cummings did not expect there to be only nine people in the program, but she liked the connections she could make with such a small group.

“I really thought I’d be pushing people out of the way to see everything,” Cummings said. “I like the intimacy of getting to know each other, and it’s kind of nice that way, too, meeting new friends this way.”

Maddie Luebbert, an English teacher at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, said that the cost of the program might be an issue for some, but that when considering the cost of other Act 48 programs, it is a good deal.

“With the Barnes price, and then the graduate price, it’s $800 altogether, which is an expensive chunk of change,” Luebbert said. “However, relative to the credits earned, it’s affordable.”

Luebbert wants to give students the opportunity to visit places like the Barnes while in school, something they do not often get the chance to do.

“One of my goals for the next school year is to utilize some of the institutions in Philly more, especially because students don’t always have the excuse or the opportunity to visit some of the really cool cultural institutions,” Luebbert said. “Especially because it’s free and we can get a bus here, I think it would be awesome.”

Maureen O’Hara, a pre-K teacher at St. Charles Borromeo in Bensalem, said that the program can be applied to all age groups and that the kids she teaches will enjoy what she has learned.

“I saw a thing by Matisse that we worked with that was absolutely gorgeous, and I’m going to tie it into an art project, with his cutting and placing different colored papers to make art,” O’Hara said. “I think that will be a perfect thing for preschoolers to do.”

Alexis Hamilton, an art teacher for Belle Haven School in California, feels that what she has learned about art in the program can help her students to care more about school.

“My school, 60 percent of the kids don’t graduate high school. It’s very low-income,” Hamilton said. “So there’s a lot of belief that art integration can help students feel more connected to school, and so the lessons here, I hope, will keep my kids engaged in school.”

Hamilton said the program gives teachers, specifically art teachers, the ability to simplify the essential elements of art into more easily digestible parts.

“In art teaching, you have to know about the Es and Ps, the ‘elements and principles’ of art. There are seven of each, so that’s 14,” Hamilton said. “That’s an awful lot to cover in what works out to be 20 to 30 hours a year.

“With the Barnes approach, they have four, but you can hang all of the rest of them off of that. If you have those four, you can look at art intelligently. You don’t need all 14. The Barnes methodology makes the teaching of art much more efficient.”