Rachel Schultz and Katie Wirthlin
High school art teacher Katie Wirthlin didn’t know what to think when she was assigned to McVay Elementary two years ago. She had never worked with young children and she was apprehensive, to put it mildly. But things have worked out pretty well. In fact, thanks to a collaborative effort with MD Intervention Specialist Rachel Schultz, Wirthlin loves her job and can’t wait to see what each new day will bring.
The dynamic duo started team teaching in the fall. Normally, Schultz’ eight students, who have a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities, had art class for 80 minutes every six days. Wirthlin and Schultz decided that wasn’t enough, so the primary MD pupils started visiting the art room for 80 minutes every day. At first, the youngsters sat at a back table and kept to themselves. But as time marched on, all the students became more self-sufficient and comfortable with each other, and after just a short while, the classroom was completely integrated. “It was a great feeling,” said Wirthlin, “and exactly what we had hoped would happen. Integration and adaptation actually works.”
Wirthlin and Schultz applied to receive an artist in residence from VSA Ohio (VSAO), and in August it was announced that McVay was one of just 16 schools in the state of Ohio that was selected to be part of the Adaptation, Integration and the Arts (AIA) residency program. AIA partners teaching artists and educators in inclusive classrooms to enhance teaching and learning through an arts-integrated residency and curriculum. Residencies are academic content standards-based; utilize Universal Design for Learning strategies; and cross all art mediums. The primary goals are to improve academic achievement; better prepare students for life, work and post-secondary education; and better prepare educators to support learning and inclusion for students with disabilities. Research confirms that sustained access to arts and arts education opportunities have a greater impact on students of all ages.
From August to October, teaching artist Candace Mazur Darman came to McVay on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Ten teachers collaborated, and the culminating event was Spooky Read Night, which was held October 29 for first and second grade students and their families. The theme was, “Fear Not,” and it involved 15-minute reading sessions indoors, an opening choral chant from a book called Wiley and the Hairy Man, and a walk through an outdoor path where 175 pieces of student artwork – disks and gargoyles – were hung from trees in the forest in back of the school, and illuminated with LED lights.
Currently, Wirthlin and Schultz are working together with their students to explore wordless picture books. They are studying how narratives are told through wordless imagery. To assist them in this project, the teachers applied for – and received – a grant from the Bette Marschall Foundation, which enabled them to purchase picture books and an iPad stand.
In the spring the collaboration will continue with a project called “Clay Caching.” Thanks to a $1,000 grant from the Westerville Education Foundation, pupils will get the opportunity to work together in inclusive settings to create ceramic sculptures that are symbolic of an element of themselves, inspired by a life event, belief or experience. They will create a sculpture that visually depicts an important time or event in their lives, then will bury it outside on school grounds. The longitude and latitude will be calculated and recorded, and other students will be charged with finding it, excavating it, and writing about what they think each sculpture depicts.
Because their efforts have been met with such great success this school year, Wirthlin and Schultz are already making plans for how best to serve their students, inclusively, in the future.