"The program's given students an intimate association with the art and they feel welcome there, a sense of belonging and comfort."
- Theresa Craddock, art teacher
Almost three decades ago, art teacher Theresa Craddock pulled ninth- and tenth-grade students out of study hall at the Boston Latin School (BLS) and brought them to a tiny space in the basement she had converted into an art room. She was determined to teach young people at the nation's oldest public school (founded in 1635) how to draw. It didn't matter that there wasn't an established art program yet; Craddock gathered whatever materials she could find and taught the fundamentals to her students.
Craddock has since moved her classes up in the world, thanks in part to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's School Partnership Program that works with six schools in the Boston Fenway neighborhood. Now Craddock revels in what she considers to be a near perfect world: participating with a unique art museum that sits a hundred yards from her classroom. The close proximity allows students to visit the museum over an extended time and teachers across the curriculum to use the collections in their daily lessons.
Craddock couldn't be happier. "Since the Gardner is in our backyard, and our curriculum is classical, it's a perfect fit," says the award-winning teacher who, now with two other full-time art teachers, has helped make art a focus - and requirement - for BLS students.
Half of each eighth-grade class is enrolled in the yearlong Connections program and is given Gardner admission buttons. Students complete regular assignments at the museum, learn to ask questions about particular paintings, identify and critique various styles, and integrate their findings into history, English, and even math studies. The interaction with the museum breathes life into their learning.
"For them it's like going on a treasure hunt. They know there's a story attached to everything in the museum," says Craddock. "It gives students an intimate association with the art, and they feel welcome there, a sense of belonging and comfort." They even display their works in the annual Community Creations: An Exhibition of Student Interpretations at the Gardner and invite their families for an evening of celebration.
The School Partnership Program also challenges teachers in other disciplines, who weren't necessarily seeing art as an integral part of the education process. "Now they're the ones taking students on tours (at the Gardner)," reports Craddock. "When we come back together, we're all talking more critically about art. They're learning about art, and I'm learning more about the other disciplines. It's a win-win."