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Granting art education

Kirkbride, Taggart, Girard and Southern received money through PCCY’s Picasso Project

Pictured from left, Peter Metcalfe, Kirkbride art teacher; Catherine Memmolo, Kirkbride middle years literacy teacher; Rebecca Julien, Kirkbride principal; Tim Gibbon, Picasso Project director — PCCY; Kim Niemela,director, COSACOSA at large, Inc.; and Eileen McGinley, Kirkbride volunteer. Photo provided by Ellie Seif

By Bill Gelman

Students at Eliza Kirkbride School, 1501 S. 7th St., have visions of a dream, more specifically Philadelphia Dreams. It’s the name of an in-the-works project in which the young artists will devise new ways to tell old tales, a recording of community and student writing and a mural, which will be dedicated at their Diversity Day festivities. Last week, during a special ceremony at City Hall, Principal Rebecca O. Julien and the Kirkbride team received word they were a grant winner of one of the largest arts programs operating in the district — the Picasso Project. Public Citizens for Children and Youth, Mayor Jim Kenney and Superintendent Dr. William Hite were also on hand for the big announcement.

“Kirkbride School is thrilled to have received a Picasso Grant for the second year in a row! Last year’s eighth-grade students had an impactful experience being involved in the Picasso Project,” Julien said. “Students not only created a beautiful mural based on their American Dreams, but were able to participate in arts advocacy at City Hall. We envision that this year’s eighth-grade students will be empowered through their participation in the Picasso Project as well.”

Kenney spoke at the event of the importance of art in city schools.

“Arts education is a vital component of every child’s growth and well being,” Kenney said.

John Taggart Elementary School, 400 W. Porter St., was awarded a grant for its Jasper at Taggart concept. The project is a collaboration with the Jasper String Quartet and Taggart music teachers, and will allow students to compose an original piece based on a work of literature. South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., also made the winners list for its “Little Shop of Horrors” project in which students will grapple with the challenges of living in an urban environment and with the questions of morality; they will learn about accountability, discipline and what it takes to succeed as a team as they prepare and perform the musical for their community. Stephen Girard School, 1800 Snyder Ave., is the other local school that received a grant, which is being put toward completing its Girard Community Mural.

Kristy Katz, who is a kindergarten teacher at the school, talked about the project that will appear on the front of the building.

“This is the third project that we have gotten funded, and I am grateful that we are given another opportunity to bring a school-wide project to the students of Girard,” Katz said. “This time, their work will permanently be on display, which will provide them with a sense of community for many years.”

This marks the 15th year that Public Citizens for Children and Youth has offered arts grants for innovative arts education projects, partnering with committed teachers and arts and other community organizations. Since Picasso Project’s first year of operation in 2003, the program has inspired more than 40,000 public school students across 163 district schools through small but strategic and highly-leveraged mini-grants.

The Girard project is expected to be a massive team effort, as Katz said the goal is to get all of the students — approximately 540 — involved with the mural’s creation, from initial sketches to the overall design and actual painting of it.

“The most exciting part of the project for me will be our Art Day to celebrate the mural’s completion,” she said. “At the end of May, we plan to invite the students, their families and other community members to the school yard for a celebration of art. … We will use the mural and the Art Day to share the plans for a new schoolyard at Girard, and begin fundraising for it. We hope that including the entire community in the improvement of Girard will lead to stronger community bonds and commitment. Ultimately, we are using the power of art to build community.”

Kirkbride is a school in which many of the students are new immigrants and represent more than 30 ethnicities. The goal, through the art project, is to examine connections between our nation’s founding documents and immigrant stories from the students’ families, school and neighborhood. The large mosaic mural will be installed near the entrance.

“Through this exploration we hope to encourage our students to explore, question, challenge each other and celebrate the emerging identities of these young adults,” Julien said. “Additionally, we hope that these discussions of identity, values and dreams will broaden the perspectives of our students, creating more understanding, empathetic citizens. The resulting mural will be a reflection of the emerging identities and dreams of our students and a visual representation to our community.”

The 54 eighth-grade students will work together on the multidisciplinary project, which will incorporate social studies, art and computer/technology classes.

“Students will work from February through June exploring our nation’s founding documents, creating audio recordings of community interviews and recitations of original Philadelphia Dreams writings, and designing mosaics based on their research and story collection,” Julien said.

The completed work will be unveiled as part of the annual Diversity Day festivities. Local legislators and community leaders are expected to attend the mural unveiling, which will include students presenting their writings on the project theme and process. The event will end with a communal meal of international foods from the many diverse cultures represented at Kirkbride.

Kristy Katz, in the middle, holding her daughter, Madelyn Wheeler, is all smiles about the grant Stephen Girard Elementary School received last week. Project liaison Evelyn Eskin and school principal Leah Coleman also attended the event. Photo by Ellie Seif.
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