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Program links art to reading, offers a memory maker
McEver Elementary School kindergartner Shyanne Jordan paints on a display board while art instructor Karin Mervis of Young Audiences teaches a class Thursday about sequencing in storytelling. McEver Elementary has been selected to participate in the smART stART program through the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. Through the program, kids learn reading readiness skills through strategic art activities. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

An art class at McEver Elementary school pushed a group of kindergarten students Thursday to the far reaches of their imaginations.

“I may be an adult, but I haven’t given up finger-painting,” art instructor Karin Mervis said.

The entire classroom sucked in a surprised gasp when she smeared her blue fingertips across the canvas. And when she gave a student a comb to create texture on a green blob that would become grass on the group’s mural, well there were enough excited “oohs” and “ahs” to rival any Fourth of July fireworks display.

The session was a part of a weekly smART stART program offered to the students by Young Audiences, Woodruff Arts Center, based in Atlanta. Through the program, the arts are used to help kindergartners improve their reading readiness skills.

“They’re actually getting that hands-on opportunity to work with (Mervis, a Young Audiences teaching artist) on a mural where they’ve worked on things like texturing, colors and other art principles,” said Edwin Link, Young Audiences program support coordinator.

“At the same time that they are working on the mural, they are also working on telling a story and sequencing properly.”

School administrators selected author and illustrator Eric Carle as the students’ muse for the program. Carle is famous for writing and illustrating such works as “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

“At the beginning of each lesson, I read them a story and explain and emphasize the illustrations and the textures and how he did it,” Mervis said. “Then they physically did it.”

After creating their own Carle-inspired textured paper, the students ripped the giant scroll into smaller squares to fill in the outline of a pig, which they drew themselves. The pigs will be used later in the classes’ mini-production of a “skewed version of ‘The Three Little Pigs.’”

Each activity — from the stories they are reading to the three-part mural they are collaborating on — is designed to reinforce the “first, then, next, finally” literary pattern.

“Everytime they see (Mervis), she talks about first, then, next and finally. We teach sequencing so many ways, but this really hammers it home. Hopefully this is something that they will take with them to first grade and beyond,” said Catherine Rosa, McEver’s principal.

“It’s building comprehension at the same time they’re going to have a huge foundation in the basics of writing.”

This is the first time that the 8-year-old smART stART program has been brought to a Hall County school.

“We’re very happy to be out in the Hall County area. The program started with just the Atlanta public schools and then we just recently in the last three years branched out to the City of Marietta and Decatur,” Link said.

Although each of the weekly sessions in the eight-week program is filled with learning, the kids are too busy having fun to notice.

“Our kids are so excited — they’re on fire about this. They’re so into it,” Rosa said.

“This is a memory maker.”

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