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Students transform Northeast Elementary into an art museum

Student in live painting

In celebration of the Denver Art Museum’s “Passport to Paris” exhibit, Northeast Elementary students organized an impressionism exhibit for their parents and teachers.

“We have made Northeast Elementary into our own museum for the evening,” explained the school’s art teacher, Adrienne Rabius. “These students are leading tours, doing security, catching art thieves, serving beignets and cappuccinos. Okay, it’s just coffee, but they have all applied for their positions.”

Rabius says everything began with a backward-designed project-based learning unit and then the students took it from there. Students were in charge of everything during the “Night at the Museum,” even the public relations efforts.
“We had PR kids that sent out the evite that you received. They’ve had to make phone calls and make appointments with our principal. I feel like their communication skills have really been called upon,” Rabius said. “Everything was student based and student driven. It has turned out great.”

As you might expect, with students at the helm, the event was a bit chaotic at times.

“It has been a little crazy,” Northeast Elementary fourth-grader Kaylee Francis said. “There are a lot of people in small hallways.”

Rabius says it is all part of the learning process.
“It has been a great experience for me,” Rabius said. “It’s fun to have your hands in, have your hands out. Sometimes you have to leave a lot of things imperfect and rough around the edges.”

She says the lesson on impressionism art isn’t new, but making it into an authentic learning experience really brought the learning to life.

“I’ve been teaching for about 20 years and I’ve done impressionist units before,” Rabus explained. “The actual application of the art materials and things like that weren’t very different. It is the whole job application, real life situation, and the authentic audience, like inviting the Denver Art Museum.”

“When my art teacher told us that real people from the art museum were coming, I got really excited,” Northeast Elementary student Hannah Reynolds said. “It is a really cool experience to have people that you usually go to see their art are coming to see yours.”

Reynolds and her classmates created a backdrop and then performed a version of Edgar Degas’ Dancer with a Tambourine painting.
“I am part of a painting. I’m living art,” Reynolds explained. “[Degas] painted a lot of dancer paintings. I used to be a ballerina, so I really wanted to be one of his paintings and I chose this one.”

“This program has really gotten me to dig into art a lot more,” Reynolds added.

Classmate Kaylee Francis agreed. 

“I learned a lot about Claude Monet.” Francis said. "I learned that he was blind when he painted his Water Lilies."

As a museum docent, she had the opportunity to guide people through the living artworks.

“I love talking so this is the perfect job for me,” Francis said. 

“[I enjoyed] getting to tour people, because I feel like an adult,” she added. “Usually it feels like they’re telling me what to do, but now I get to lead them.”

Francis says the event allowed students to develop skills in collaboration and resiliency that they might not get in the traditional classroom environment.

“Sometimes it is tough working with people, like when they didn’t do their research, you had to do their research too. It’s a life lesson. No matter how old you get, you’re always going to have people that you don’t like working with or are hard to work with,” Francis said.

The hope is that the “Night at the Museum” will not only spark an interest in art for these students, but provide them with confidence in public speaking and other areas.

“I hope that they learn how awesome they are and how many things they can do on their own,” Rabius said. “The independent work has been phenomenal and students that you don’t always see strong in all of the areas have really blossomed in this learning situation.”

This is one of several student-led projects at Northeast. Students also have coordinated a father-daughter dance, a mother-son movie night and a food drive.

January 27, 2014 | By SCPaulsen | Category: Northeast Elementary School, Elementary Education

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