An unveiling of the artwork, Project Peace: Confronting Bullying through Art, will take place on Sunday, March 24, 2-4pm at Antioch University Midwest. This 2013 artist residency at Mills Lawn School is a partnership of the YS Village Schools and the Yellow Springs Arts Council, with support from the Village Human Relations Commission and AUM. February at Mills Lawn marks a school-wide exploration of bullying and peacemaking with a culminating work of art that will visit various sites in Yellow Springs before its permanent installation at the school. The art will be a triptych of three mixed media works, displaying historic peacemakers along with symbols and statements of peace. The March 24 unveiling will be part of a larger reception celebrating the newly displayed Yellow Springs Arts Council Permanent Collection throughout the first floor hallways at Antioch University Midwest.
The Project Peace collaboration utilizes art as a vehicle for exploring social inclusion with youth. The idea was initiated by local educator, John Gudgel. Through his years as the YS High School principal, coach, a lead member of the 365 Project, and his current role as the Mills Lawn school counselor, Gudgel has gained a unique perspective on the “bullying crisis”. This national issue has been prominently depicted in the media and is of growing concern to parents and leaders of youth. Gudgel has been collecting insight through observations and student surveys related to bullying, harassment and acts of intimidation at the elementary school. Early planning meetings between Mills Lawn educators and the Arts Council resulted in a collaborative vision of a project based on “social justice”, focused not just on bullying but also on productive social responses to conflict and inequity. Patti Dallas of the Village Human Relations Commission became engaged in early discussions, and led the commission in awarding a grant for the project’s execution. This, along with a matching grant from the Yellow Springs Arts Council, funded supplies and two guest artists, Allison Paul and Deborah Housh.
Through Project Peace, identification of bullying behavior is just a starting point. As the school counselor, Mr. Gudgel is visiting every Mills Lawn class and providing guided activities such as role-playing, discussion and story telling to engage students in thoughtful work towards speaking out and resolving conflicts. Every classroom teacher at the school is pursuing extension activities to continue the learning around these ideas. The Mills Lawn student media program, led by Carol Culbertson, produces a daily morning news program that is further promoting the concepts. A blog (http://projectpeacemillslawnschool.com) has also been created to document the project and allow for student reflection and feedback. The in-progress blog made a guest appearance at the YS Arts Council’s recent member’s exhibit, Art for Change, during which visitors made audio recordings of their experiences with bullying.
At the request of MLS principal, Matt Housh, Project Peace includes the participation of all Mills Lawn students because active work towards social relationships is essential at all grade levels. The project encourages students to move through processes of self-awareness about bullying, towards actions of peacemaking. The guest artists are introducing younger students to children’s literature about self-esteem and conflict resolution as well as art historic references such as Tibetan peace flags and craft activist art. These students are designing statements of kindness and peace to be integrated into the final art pieces. Second and third graders are researching Adinkra symbols of West Africa and their positive associations, then printing their own symbols of peace onto the finished works. Upper grade Mills Lawn students are researching historic peacemakers and considering personal traits that made these leaders persevere in the face of adversity. Some older students are mentoring younger ones. Through the various school-wide efforts, students are creating connections that begin with personal experience, then extend to the school level, and finally project into the larger community. The goal is for students to gain the skills to become agents for change.
The Yellow Springs Arts Council has expanded its education program this year under the direction of new Arts and Cultural Manager, Deborah Housh. Adding to the long tradition of adult classes and artist presentations, YSAC is now fostering youth learning through the arts. In addition to the new artist in residence program, YSAC recently began offering field trips to the YSAC Community Gallery in downtown Yellow Springs. These are “field studies” led by an art educator who provides pre-lessons to teachers, then on-site interactive activities that support student inquiry and reflection about art and artists from their own community. This summer the YSAC will also offer an art camp for area youth. Housh, who holds an MA in Art Education, says that the new artist in residence program being piloted through Project Peace is based on an in-depth learning model. “We don’t plan to initiate artist residencies around a particular medium or art discipline, instead we want to bring artists and educators together to develop rich project-based learning around a driving concept that is of deep value to the school community,” says Housh.
The Project Peace works of art, along with project documentation, will continue to be displayed at Antioch University Midwest through their upcoming conference, Safe School Climate: Making the Invisible Visible, on May 8 & 9. The conference will include sessions for both parents and educators. Information about arts educational offerings through the Yellow Springs Arts Council can be found at www.ysartscouncil.org. The Project Peace: Confronting Bullying through Art blog can be accessed through the Mills Lawn School website at http://projectpeacemillslawnschool.com.