|Art program helps inner-city kids improve grades
Sept. 18, 2006
|Photo by Heidi J. Robinson
Middle school girls paint pottery after a morning of tutoring in math and English.
By Heidi J. Robinson*
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UMNS) ? To a casual passerby, the scene might look
like an extreme sports exhibition: an enormous slingshot stretched between
field stakes, participants cloaked in protective plastic garb, and the
cheers and shrieks of the crowd.
Twelve kids take turns firing projectiles of paint at oversized canvases,
creating a colorful masterpiece worthy of a gallery, and noise reminiscent
of a football game.
But what is taking place in a field behind Christ United Methodist Church
is far more significant than a casual competition. Children from
Chattanooga?s inner city are experiencing the thrill of seeing their own
artistic talent make an impact.
?It makes me feel special, and that I can do a good job and make things
happen in my life,? says rising seventh-grader Sierra Daniels.
The enormous slingshot, paint-soaked tennis balls, and happy faces are
the kids? payoff for voluntarily spending summer mornings hitting the books,
as part of a program aimed at raising the academic performance of children
in the inner city.
?These kids will remember how much fun it is creating the art,? says
Becky Hall, Christ Church director of missions. ?They remember how rewarding
it is to create something beautiful, and that is an insurance policy that
they will return to our literacy program next year.?
Two dozen women prep canvases, soak paintballs and instruct pottery
embellishment. The women, who call themselves Moms on a Mission, use the
extreme art in tandem with the academic instruction offered at the Bethlehem
Center, a United Methodist neighborhood center in the inner city. The art
and other enrichment activities are a lure to keep middle-school students
involved in the academic tutoring program during the lazy days of summer.
|Photo by Heidi J. Robinson
A child launches a paint-covered tennis ball at a canvas across the field as Jenny Smith supervises.
?Our students have scored below grade level during their academic year,?
explains the Rev. Lurone Jennings, Bethlehem Center executive director.
?They must have intensive work in both language arts and mathematics if they
are to reach their full potential in high school. We must reach them now.
The problem is that there are a lot of distractions and reasons not to come
to get the help they need.?
Enter Moms on a Mission and extreme art classes. Several professional
artists count themselves among the group of moms. They lend their talents to
a number of diverse artistic expressions that draw the students? attention
and fire their collective imagination.
?Today, I had a group of boys who were very apprehensive about coming out
here to paint because they think that?s a girl thing,? says professional
painter Jane Newman. ?Once they got started, they simply got lost in the
beauty and freedom of the art process.?
In the three years since the program?s inception, students have had
opportunities to create oil paintings, in both abstract and representational
styles. One boy says painting taught him new things about himself.
?It makes me feel good,? says Jeremy Davis, a rising ninth-grader. ?I
didn?t know I could paint. I know Miss Jane has faith in me.?
The moms say they have learned alongside the kids and have gained insight
into the purpose in their own lives.
|Photo by Heidi J. Robinson
Sue Moore, one of two dozen Moms on a Mission, prepares the tennis balls used to create slingshot art.
?I think it?s our mission. God gives each one of us a gift, and we?re
supposed to use it,? Newman says. ?I need to share my gift.?
Jenny Smith says exploring the creative process with the middle-school
students reinforces her belief that faith takes action. ?I think it is very
important that we show other mothers and parts of our community that all
children are important, and every child deserves an opportunity. We have to
give children new experiences so they can truly grow.?
Demand for art
In all, more than 100 pieces of art are created in the program. Some of
the canvasses span three or four feet, and some are glazed ceramic. At the
end of the summer, the art will be auctioned and the proceeds will help fund
the tutoring and academic support for next summer.
?One of the best parts of this program is that the students have some
ownership in it,? Jennings says. ?Their work impacts the program.?
The art is already in high demand. A local BMW dealership says it plans
to purchase and hang some of the art in its new showroom.
?It?s quality work. They put all their effort into it,? says Leslie
Williams, BMW of Chattanooga. ?I think it?s fresh inspiration for us to
purchase this and put it up in our new facility, rather than purchase
The combination of art and academics appears to be a master stroke.
Tutors report that by the summer?s end, they see a 28 percent increase in
the number of students who can pass a grade-level reading test. This means
the students start this school year with a firm grasp of the scholastic, and
also a confidence in their God-given talents.
Jeremy Davis sums up the feeling of the young artists: ?I did a very good
*Robinson is a freelance producer based near Cleveland, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or
Art Catapults: Self-esteem through self-expresion
Forging Stronger Students: Art class molds character
Art therapy helps AIDS orphans tell their stories
Church rejuvenates members through art programs
Christ United Methodist Church