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Farm School to Foundations of Art: How Summer Grants Have Bolstered Curriculum Development

Farm School to Foundations of Art: How Summer Grants Have Bolstered Curriculum Development
Farm School to Foundations of Art
By Stacey Roshan

A multidisciplinary Farm School experience for 3rd grade students. A revamped Visual Arts program for Upper School students. These are just two programs made possible through the new Bullis Summer Grants program.

Bullis teachers consistently lead the way with their innovative teaching practices and collaborative, cross-department and even cross-division programming. Recognizing the challenge to find time to do this bold, creative, collaborative work during the school year, particularly coming out of pandemic learning, Bullis leadership developed a new initiative. The Bullis Summer Grants program was created to give teachers time to develop curricular work over the summer. Members of the teaching faculty interested in engaging in course design during the summer were able to apply, provided this work was being done in a team.

Through creation of this summer grant, I hope faculty feel encouraged to collaborate with colleagues to design rich and meaningful learning opportunities for students that help to further our strategic plan goals. Ryann Fapohunda, Director of Teaching and Learning

Let’s take a look at two of the summer 2022 work grants: the 3rd grade Farm School project and the Foundations of Studio Art course redesign.

Farm School

When not at school, 3rd grade teacher Mark Walter is busy tending to the needs of the 400-acre farm his family caretakes along with their family business, Plow and Stars Farm, in Poolesville, Maryland. Since Mark began working at Bullis in 2014, every K-5 student has had a chance to go to the farm for at least one field trip. Some recurring themes have been 5th grade’s Colonial Day celebration in May and Lower School Staff work days at the farm. Additional opportunities have included Middle School service projects, Upper School Food Science class visits, and even a full faculty visit to the farm during opening school meetings.

Mark had hoped to one day create a more holistic, environmental education farm curriculum for students, similar to what he experienced on a trip to the Farm School in Massachusetts years ago. The opportunity to teach third grade, along with the additional time for collaborative planning with his colleagues over the summer, has brought this dream to life!

Bullis Farm School
Every time we bring a class to the farm, the feeling of excitement and wonder from the kids is palpable. Mark Walter, Bullis 3rd Grade Teacher

Bullis 3rd grade students are now embarking on a year-long, cross-curricular Farm School experience of their own, designed by 3rd grade teachers Mark Walter and Kendall Strickler with help from Visual Art teacher Lindy Russell-Heymann, Music teacher Michelle Bogart, Science/STEM teacher Dana Miller, and School Counselor Elizabeth Martinich. This program seeks to guide students through a joyful experience of self-exploration, a deepening awareness of community, increased empathy and attention to caring for animals and the land, and calming and centering techniques.

For the 2022-23 school year, there will be nine farm visits revolving around the following themes:

  • Art on the farm
  • Music on the farm
  • Science on the farm
  • Social Studies on the farm
  • Literacy on the farm
  • Social Emotional Wellness on the farm

Expanding on Social Emotional Learning Goals

Bullis Farm School

Adult: “Ben, are you having a good day?”
Ben, walking excitedly among the turkeys: “No, I’m having a great day!”

Every Bullis Lower School class works with Elizabeth (Liz) Martinich on a weekly basis. For 3rd graders, the farm visits support their specific learning targets in myriad ways. One of the main focuses through this cross-curricular work is community building and learning about the world outside of ourselves. Liz works to help students gain a deepening awareness of who they are as an individual while also understanding how they fit into a larger community. The farm creates an atmosphere of openness and trust to facilitate the delivery of these important lessons. Concretely, students learn how to take care of other creatures besides themselves such as the chicks, chickens, sheep, goats, and any other animals they interact with on the farm.

First Experiences

So far, 3rd grade students have had two trips to the farm. During experiential education, they concentrated on getting to know their classmates, their teachers, and the land. On a more recent trip, they focused on community building and personal development. Lessons were centered on themes of friendship, working in a community, and kindness. Students are gradually being introduced to the animals; on this visit, highlights included holding the chickens and turkeys and watching the dogs gather the sheep so that students could say hi and pet them.

Bullis Farm School

Students revel in the chance to help out and pick up the baby turkeys and chickens.

One recurring activity will be the Farm Journals that students have already begun. On their initial visit, students chose a special spot on the farm to sit, observe, and reflect independently. To get into their writing routine, they start by recording the date, the weather, what the sky looks like, and animal sightings. After that, they have the freedom to write and draw freely. As the year progresses, they will be able to observe how the world around them changes while they remain seated in the same place.

Bullis 3rd Grade Farm School
Bullis 3rd Grade Farm School

Students journal, reflect, and observe the world around them from their special spots.

Foundation of Studio Art

“Deep involvement with the arts provide all Bullis students the chance to find something special in themselves and to pursue any artistic avenue of their choosing.” Providing an exceptional arts education is core to Bullis’ mission and strategic vision.

The visual arts department, led by US Art Department Chair Kathleen Adams, has been working to further strengthen the foundational coursework experience for all Bullis students. A major component of this curriculum redesign is the creation of a full-year Foundation of Studio Art course. This course is a requirement for all who would like to enter the visual art program and is open to all students. Compared to intro-level courses offered in the past, the Foundations of Studio Art course is a more cohesive, integrated year-long experience, allowing students:

  • to develop stronger teacher-student and student-student relationships
  • a deeper dive into technical skills
  • to build a stronger foundation in the visual arts to bolster their interest and capacity for higher-level courses offered at Bullis

This formative experience gives students the opportunity to explore and develop talents in ways they may not otherwise have discovered. The year-long experience also allows art teachers to get to know their students on a more intimate level, thus helping them to create projects and give feedback that captures an individual student’s interest. With a focus on community at the heart of everything we do at Bullis, the shift will also give students a chance to form more trusting relationships with their peers in class. This is essential for honest, vulnerable artwork and peer critique.

Studio Art

Revamped Curriculum

Visual arts teachers Kathleen Adams, Alice Shih-Kahn, and Cassie Thomas came together this summer to create the full-year Foundations of Studio Art experience, comprised of introductions to painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and design. In the first trimester, students explore a variety of media and techniques. In the second two-thirds of the course, students apply their learned knowledge and skills to larger prompts and assignments.

The restructuring of this program “allows students to have more choice and voice in their artwork. It opens more opportunities for growth and authentic engagement with materials and, by extension, ideas. Cassie Thompson, Upper School Visual Art Teacher

The Foundations of Studio Art course endeavors to give students an understanding and appreciation of the higher-level, discipline-specific classes offered at Bullis, where they can further pursue their individual interests.

First Experiences

In the first six weeks of school, students have used new skills acquired through their unit in bookbinding techniques to create “lab books.” With an experimental approach to new media, this activity fosters student exploration and risk-taking, promoting greater and faster artistic growth.

I think that the labs have helped us open our eyes because it's a way of experimenting with different materials without having the need or urge to make something specific or perfect. Rafaella Effio, Bullis School 11th Grade Student

The new format of the course has created instructional options that were not available before. In the first trimester, students engage in “lab work” designed to learn and practice new skills. Each lab has spanned 2-3 class days, giving students the chance to “play” and grow through experimentation.

It was messy, organized chaos that encouraged a higher level of engagement, collaboration, and learning from one another. Kathleen Adams, Upper School Visual Art Department Chair
Bullis Foundations of Art

Early Outcomes

The new course format has led to deeper exploration, experimentation, and collaboration among students. Learners are developing an interest in the arts program earlier through exposure to many different materials from the start of the year. Teachers feel a greater sense of teaching for “artistic behavior” and students are feeling empowered to take risks and explore media in an environment that supports creative exploration.

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