As a Jewish Day School, Rockwern Academy’s Visual Arts program enhances both the Judaic and General Studies content and curriculum. That is one reason the arts have been such a central aspect of the education we offered at Rockwern Academy. As American educator, writer, and social activist Vida D. Scudder once wrote, “It is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed.” Through our teaching of the arts, our students come to see this truth.
Beyond creating an educational environment that contributes to improved learning outcomes, art-based learning also addresses the National Standards for Visual Arts, the educational guidelines that specify what students should know and be able to do in art. Our goals directly correlate with the National Standards for the Visual Arts. These goals embody the following foundational disciplines of art:
Art Production – Understand and apply art media, techniques, and process.
Art History – Understand the visual arts in relation to history and culture.
Aesthetics – Understand the structure and function of art.
Relevance – Understand the importance of art in the world.
Lessons involve demonstrating how to use a variety of materials and examining the art history relating to the topic discussed. As a Jewish Community Day School, we understand the importance of integrating disciplines. We are intentionally seek to integrate art with both the general and Judaic studies curricula. The fundamental aim is to create, investigate, appreciate, and learn critical thinking skills through experiences that enrich the students’ deep understanding in art, but also in the general and Judaic studies curricula.
An integrated art curriculum enables teachers to establish a richer Jewish curriculum and assist our students in living a stronger Jewish life. Research shows that art promotes self-discipline, long-term learning, and improved retention. General education highlights a strong correlation between experiences in the arts and student achievements. The arts teach content, and exercise not just the hand and heart, but the mind as well. Integration encompasses the entire curriculum and highlights the commonalities between the secular and Jewish worlds. Ofra Backenroth, in her article “Incorporating the Arts in Jewish Education” so perfectly stated, “Art-based Jewish Day Schools serve as the glue that holds the secular and Jewish curriculum together.”
Rockwern Academy has many examples of the integration of art with our Jewish and general studies curricula. In our ceramics unit, students create ceremonial art objects. Each project teaches specific ceramic techniques as well as different holiday traditions. For example, in kindergarten, students create their own Kiddush cups for Shabbat. They learn the techniques of wedging, pinch pots, and scoring two pieces together. In first grade, students create and learn about mezzuzot. In second grade, students make their own Shabbat candlestick holders. In third grade, students learn about the history and use of spice boxes, and they make personalized boxes to use for the Jewish Studies Havdalah Program. All of these projects involve new ceramics skills. The fourth grade students study Pop Art and create their own ceramic tile trivets, integrating the study of Jewish holidays and symbolism with the study of Andy Warhol and the style of Pop Art.
Another well integrated project occurs in fifth grade, when our students create “Arty Sukkahs.” Each student chooses an artist and creates a shoebox sukkah in that artist’s particular style. They must first write and research a paragraph about the artist, as well as write a second paragraph about how they chose to incorporate that style in their sukkah. This year, the Mayerson Jewish Community Center (JCC) asked to display the student sukkahs in their second annual community Sukkah Art Exhibit. The past two years, 5th and 6th grade students also created two beautiful wall hangings for the JCC Sukkah Art Exhibit. These are presently hanging in the school atrium across from the art room.
Additionally, projects vary from year to year. Last year during the holiday of Yom HaAtzma’ut, sixth grade students studied Israel and created a copper relief mural. One of the copper foil murals, created for “Israel at 60” celebration, was chosen, framed and hung permanently in the entrance of the JCC, next to the J Café.
Each year, sixth grade students are required to research and write a two-page proposal letter in the voice of a famous architect, as part of an extensive unit on architecture. In the letter, students must first describe the building they plan to build and explain why it will be a significant achievement in the future. Buildings chosen for this project are architectural landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Coliseum, but the students are pretending that these structures have not yet been built. After their “proposals” are approved, students are asked to recreate their buildings using a variety of media. The written portion of the project is integrated with the language arts program and this year, we will incorporate math with the concepts of scale and proportion will be incorporated.
Each year, the seventh and eighth grade students create a legacy class project that is donated to the school and added to our permanent art collection. Last year, the students chose their project after they studied the Holocaust. Students designed and created a Zachor (Remembrance) collage that is hung permanently in the school.
The butterfly project is another very meaningful, integrated project for the 5th and 6th grade students. Every year, 100 ceramic butterflies are created. Later in the year for the commemoration of Yom HaShoah, local Catholic Schools students are invited to Rockwern to learn about the Holocaust and as part of their experience read the poem, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Both Rockwern students and those from the Catholic schools glaze the butterflies. These butterflies are later permanently affixed to the school synagogue wall in remembrance of the million and a half Jewish children who perished during the Shoah.
The art program is further enriched and integrated through a one week artist-in-residence program endowed and supported by PTO. This year’s artists are from the Madcaps Puppet Theater. These artists will make puppets with students in grades K-4. They will also work with the 5th and 6th grades to create puppets for use in original skits that the students write in language arts classes as part of the All-School Read Project on the topic of “Kavod” (respect/honor). These puppet shows will be presented to the entire school and taken out to the community.
After-school art classes are offered year round at Rockwern and are in high demand. Rockwern students of all ages seek out extra opportunities for art study, demonstrating their enthusiasm for this aspect of their education. In addition, the annual Music and Art Show, which presents student artwork each year in the spring, is well attended.
The deliberate and consistent focus on individual creativity is such an important part of what makes Rockwern Academy a special and vibrant learning community. In an age where the predominant value in so many schools continues to be teaching students to be successful on standardized tests, Rockwern upholds a focus on the Jewish value of creating. We want our students to realize that life is revealed through creating.