Urbana Park District gives students close look at sculptures

Urbana Park District gives students close look at sculptures

Students in Karen Tucker's third-grade class spent Wednesday morning getting a hands-on – and sometimes feet-on – arts education.

On a field trip co-hosted by the Urbana Park District, the 24 students from Yankee Ridge Elementary School felt, measured, discussed and climbed on sculptures at the Wandell Sculpture Garden in Meadowbrook Park in southwest Urbana.

The program, designed and led by Mindy Watts-Ellis for the park district, was the first of what the staff at both the school and park districts hope will be many collaborations centered around third-graders, the arts and Meadowbrook Park.

The school's visual arts instructor, Martha Churukian, said the program gives kids the kind of art experience they can't have in the school building.

"In the classroom, it's very difficult to view real sculptures," she said. "You don't get that same sense of scale."

Arts has long been a focus at the school, which won a Creative Ticket School of Excellence Award from the Illinois Alliance for Arts Education in March.

The park district trip began shortly after school started, when the kids walked the half-mile to the park in two lines. Along with teachers, the park district's community program director, Janet Soesbe, walked with them.

"This is something we've been working on for over a year and speaking about for over two years," she said of the student program, initiated by the park district. "We're really excited."

Arriving at the park, the students first made "thinking caps" out of old newspapers and masking tape.

"I can see the weather from here!" joked Andrew Albrecht, 9, of the view from inside his newspaper, as his classmates Simon Pokorny, 8, and Sierra Maniates-Selvin, 9, helped shape the paper to his head.

On the caps, students taped "L," "W," and "H," standing for length, width and height. The program was designed to meet Illinois state standards for learning in more than art. "We tried to craft it around their curriculum," said Dan Gibble of the park district, adding that third grade standards worked well with the program.

To that end, math and writing skills were included as students measured statues and wrote down information about them.

As the students walked around the park, they analyzed the many and varied sculptures, including "Prairie Buoy," a cast bronze piece by Cecilia Allen.

"I see a pin, like a tack," said Valentina Stafford, 8, giving her perspective of "Buoy."

Her classmate Sara Smith, 9, was more impressed by Carl Billingsley's 12-foot-tall steel "Fluke."

"Oh, cool!" she exclaimed as she walked toward it. "That's the biggest statue I've ever seen." The class discusses the meaning of the sculpture, feeling its surface and measuring its triangular sides.

Coming to "Swift" by Alissa Neglia, Watts-Ellis asked the students to consider if the sculpture had a drum beat, what kind would it have?

The students tap out a quick, steady beat on their legs, then they run over and touch the rust-colored piece.

"I wanted it to be interactive and really involve the kids and their observations," Watts-Ellis said. She said the program helps children "not just making judgments, but really learning to quantify (them)."

Leaving the park, 9-year-old Sheyann Philbeck has formed her impression of the outing.

"You can really learn something here," she said. "You learn about the architecture and the shapes and sizes that (the sculptures) are – and it's fun."

Though the program took longer than expected and an in-school sculpture project needed to be postponed, Tucker was also pleased with the results.

"It was tremendously worthwhile," she said. "Art in the beautiful prairie setting – how can you beat that?"

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