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Atlanta artist group connects McEver students to art
Program includes different projects for each grade level
Karin Mervis, with Young Audiences at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, helps first-graders Alexsis Lopez, center, and Alex Tran retell a story Tuesday at the McEver Arts Academy. McEver is hosting an artist-in-residence for each grade level. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Ndebele, yams and hippopotamus are just a few words now in the vocabulary of McEver Arts Academy first-graders.

The school is hosting artists from Atlanta's Young Audiences group for the next few weeks.

"They work with the kids on a set of standards and connect it to the arts," said Catherine Rosa, principal at McEver. "The money was provided through the charter implementation grant."

Each grade level has a different artist program.

Kindergartners worked with professional dancer Nicole Liveratos to learn "moving math."

The first-graders discovered Africa and its folklore from artist Karin Mervis.

Fourth-graders wrote their own Bill of Rights and filmed videos directed by a dramatic artist, and the second grade learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and created dream pillows.

Each of the artists works with teachers to decide which of the Georgia Performance Standards to teach.

Through Mervis' lessons, the first-graders learned about setting, characters, story sequencing — beginning, middle and end — and the visual arts.

"The things they learn in here are things we tie into the little stories we read every day," first-grade teacher Valerie Kline said. "We're also incorporating social studies by learning about the continent of Africa."

While Mervis had small groups of students painting benches in the tradition of the Ndebele people of South Africa, the rest of her classes were at tables practicing writing and illustrating sentences.

"We talked about setting so they went and wrote sentences using words I'd written on the word wall. Then they had to draw a chosen animal from (the story of ‘Anansi the Spider') and draw a setting of a forest or jungle," Mervis said.

The stories show Mervis that even students whose second language is English are able to understand directions and learn visually.

Cierra Segars, 6, practiced using sequence words, such as "first," "then" and "next" in her sentences.

"We're doing a little book. My book is about how first I went to Africa. I went to where the moss and the rock (from ‘Anansi the Spider') are," she said. "We learned words like ‘KPOM,' which is like ‘boom,' when you fall down."

On the other side of the building, Liveratos was teaching position words and patterns to kindergartners.

"The Performance Standards were math skills, which come under the goal of sorting, like ‘same' and ‘different,'" she said. "It's wonderful they get to move. It's a lot of fun to be able to watch them create. They learn to follow directions and talk about what types of shapes."

Liveratos had her students in a circle and told some students to "create." These students would pose themselves into a shape or position that their neighbor had to copy.

The artists' presence is also a chance for McEver faculty to engage in professional learning. Kline said it was common for teachers to bounce ideas off of their visitors to find new ways to integrate arts into the curriculum.

This is the second year McEver has hosted Young Audiences artists, Rosa said. Last year students worked with famous cartoonists and illustrators in some of their programs.

But because the school's charter grant is up this year, she's not sure how the program will be able to continue.
"We're looking for funding and sponsorships," she said.

"This is a wonderful way to get involved."

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