"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."
Andy Warhol articulates the life lesson my students will be learning during this unit. Change is such a hard thing to do, for both children and adults. We as a society resist change and continue to crave routines. However, change is necessary as far as good health, especially today.
There are thousands of people who are obese in the State of Connecticut today and many of them are children. "26% of children aged 6-17 are overweight."
It is essential to try to prevent or correct obesity because it is likely to carry over into adulthood. "80% of obese adolescents become obese adults."
80% is an extremely high number, which leads me to believe it is imperative to act now, while the children are still young to correct this epidemic. Obesity is a precursor to so many serious health issues, both in children and adults. These health issues are in some cases preventable, how can we not try to improve our chances? I feel that children are unaware of the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. "Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure; colon, breast, and prostate cancer; and diabetes."
These facts are scary, but unfortunately very true. The statistics keep increasing, without any sign of decreasing or at least leveling off.
It is my goal through the course of this unit to incite change in the habits of my students and the other students in our school by illustrating what healthy food looks like and the nutritional value of these foods in order to prevent or correct obesity in children. I intend to do this by teaching a unit that promotes good eating, exercise and a lifestyle that will help these students to live long healthy lives. The sculptural mobiles will be based on the bold, powerful images of the Pop Art Movement. The students will create these mobiles and they will hang in the school cafeteria to inspire good eating habits.
I teach Visual Arts at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School; an inter-district magnet school in New Haven serving grades five through eight. Our students generally are well equipped with at least an interest in the arts, and often with a limited amount of experience. The students come from New Haven as well as many districts outside of the city. Admission is based on a lottery system, as is standard for most magnet schools. The students I will be working with come from several of these districts, which create a diverse class as far as race and gender. The target class will be eighth graders, many of which have extensive experience in Visual Art. The class meets twice a week, for fifty-six minutes. They have extensive knowledge and understanding of Visual Art, as most of them have been in this intensive class for at least two years. The class is 80% female, 20% male.
The mission of our school is to develop students through an interdisciplinary-based curriculum, which integrates arts and academics. The art program, which exists in our building, has been in existence for over twenty years. In fact, we even have teachers who attended Betsy Ross! The arts program is made up of several departments including Visual Art, Dance, Theatre and Music and includes many intensive programs within these departments, such as Photography, Band, Strings, Chorus and Video. Students chose the discipline they are interested in pursuing and based on student selection and teacher recommendation, the students are placed in what we call an Emphasis class. The students spend two days a week in their Emphasis class and the other three in the remaining arts. So if a student is places in Visual Art Emphasis, they will spend the remaining three days in Theatre, Dance and Music.
We have small class sizes in the arts classes, which allow for individualized instruction and close attention to detail. The arts teachers are well-rounded, professional working artists that collaborate on performances and program structure. There are several school-wide performances each year. I am fortunate to be a part of a program that allows talented hard-working students to be showcased in many ways in the community and in the school. Our artwork is shown all over the city of New Haven, including the Yale Center for British Art, and the Board of Education, and has traveled as far as Hartford, to CEA, Connecticut Education Association. Our students perform at various events around New Haven and have even done so at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Our academic teachers support the arts and are willing to try new things to improve the overall quality of education that we provide.
An arts program like the one offered at Betsy Ross provides a well-rounded education, not only in things that can be measured on a standardized test, but provides advantages socially, emotionally and physically for adolescents. This program creates a balance in education, an emotional outlet as well as a venue for success. Because the students are exposed to all of the art modalities, they have a good chance for success in one of the many forms of art they are exposed to. Through these art experiences, students learn a tolerance for each other and even for themselves.
Respect is an integral part of our school, not only to people and our building, but also to the types of things that we learn about. I use the respect that students are taught, to stress to them the importance and value of different types of art and artists. Many of the young fifth grade students find certain types of art, namely abstract art to "not be art." It takes some class discussions and many examples of "fine art" to convince them that these pieces are in fact part of the art world. It is a fun part of the job when you are showing students things they have never seen before. We have a sign posted in every art room that says simply, "Artists Respect Artists". We try as a community to support students in their artistic endeavors and to teach them to be open-minded about all types of differences. The students are taught upon arrival, of the importance of respect, not only for the school and teachers but also for each other, as artists. This respect provides my students with a willingness to learn, and encourages them to take chances. All of these benefits will make my unit more effective both to the students creating the pieces and to the students who will view the pieces.
The group of teachers from Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School who are participating fellows in the institute will, through our own individual units, raise awareness of healthy living and eating and create a Health Fair to educate our students, teachers and parents about the importance of good health, exercise and eating habits. The statistics about childhood obesity will be displayed, as well as ways to help prevent and correct this disease. The sculptural mobiles will be an integral part of this Fair and will hang in the school cafeteria to continue to send our message after the Fair.