Dedicated classes aren’t the only way to immerse students into the world of the arts.

According to Jesse Ebner, middle school social studies teacher, sixth-grade adviser and middle school coordinator at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike, teachers also can find ways to incorporate the arts into their normal lesson plans.

“Because I’m a social studies teacher, I tend to look at things from that perspective,” she said. “Especially when we are studying ancient cultures and studying ancient people, using arts is a great way to understand different time periods and to understand a whole new perspective. Especially when we’re looking at art that is also an artifact.”

Some of the ways Ebner incorporates art into her classroom include annual trips to the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“I take eighth graders every year to the art museum to study ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Greece and Rome, and it gives them a hands-on experience to see art and artifacts that are from the period we studied,” she said. “It gives them a tangible connection. So, they look at a Greek piece of pottery or a painted vase, and we’ve talked about painting and pottery in ancient Greece. It makes a good connection.”

Ebner also assigns students a yearly project about ancient Greece or Rome, with which she said many students take an artistic direction. 

“It allows them a new way to kind of synthesize what they’ve learned and to create a project that demonstrates what they’ve learned, all the while engaging them deeper in the learning process on history or whatever topic they’re working on,” she said. “(Taking an artistic approach) helps you remember the material and understand it in a different way.”

Adding artistic elements to the classroom gives students more incentive to take part, Ebner said. 

“It gives students more buy-in,” she said. “They’re more engaged, especially when they have a choice on the type of projects that they get to do and take ownership over it. It’s something that they’re creating, so they’re not memorizing rote information, but they’re actually taking what they’ve learned and creating something with that. It causes them to think about what they learned in a new way, think about it in a deeper way and often do extra learning.”

Arts also allow students to express themselves in different ways, apart from typical classroom options.

“A student who may not have the words or the language arts skills to write an essay that expresses something can do that with art instead,” Ebner said. “It’s like a different way to not only explore their own interests and their own passions and ideas about themselves and the world around them, but they can also express those things in a different way where it would’ve been hard for them.”

When students can work artistically, Ebner said they produce “incredible” work.

“I’ve been amazed at some of the projects these kids can come up with when they are given a little bit of freedom and a bit of license to be kind of artistic or to look at it from a different way,” she said. “(Art) allows students the opportunity to express themselves.”

Ebner noted artistic freedom is important for middle school-aged students.

“Middle-level students are trying to figure out who they are, so they are experimenting with different things,” she said. “They love popular culture, and kind of buy into it. But giving them access to arts, theater and visual arts, they can try them out and realize they are good at it. It’s a great way to give kids some wiggle room.”

Former Irving I. Stone editorial intern Marissa Nichol contributed to this story.

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