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Art Buddies program creates hands-on teaching experience for art education majors

According to the National Center of Learning Disabilities, students with learning disabilities retain information better by incorporating the arts with academics. It was also reported that these individuals are exceptional artists and, according to Grand Valley State University Art Education professor Katalin Zaszlavik, youths with learning disabilities are just that: exceptional.

In 2003, GVSU professor Catherine Timmermannis partnered with Rockford Public Schools to create a hands-on teaching experience for future special needs teachers in art called Art Buddies. Two classes make up the Art Buddies program, which assigns two to three exceptional students to one GVSU student.

“As part of their first art education courses, it is important to expose my students to a variety of experiences where they can observe work with their future audience, (which are) K-12 students; among these will be students with special needs,” Zaszlavik said.

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Courtesy / GVSU Visual Resources Library

The program allows the GVSU students to design a lesson plan and adapt it to their art buddies. Throughout the year, the art buddies produce four projects alongside their mentors.

“Art buddies bring their own voice, idea and visual solution to the same big idea or theme and avoid a cookie-cutter or one-fits-all, art-making activity, which is quite an undermining pedagogical practice but sometimes might be necessary,” Zaszlavik said.

The relationships created through the program radiate an impact outside of the classroom, said Rockford teacher Amanda Cavazos.

“The program has instilled a greater confidence in many of the students. They are proud of their work and they have an increased self-esteem,” Cavazos said. “This art class has increased many of the students’ desire to learn more about art, history and the cultures around them.”

The purpose of the program is to promote practicum, compassion, open-mindedness and advocacy.

“We learn a little bit of classroom management because it is a different type of setting where we have one student per two to three art buddies. So we kind of learn that this wouldn’t be the real classroom, but it’s just a great experience to have a one-on-one relationship with (the students),” said art education student Chelsea Sall. “We learn to encourage students to move along in their art-making process. We learned an overall relationship-building with your students and the importance of having that connection with them, and then they trust you and that is what creates great works together. It is something you can’t get in a huge classroom.”

Both Cavazos and Zaszlavik hope to continue the program and to possibly expand it to include other schools in the area. While the plans for expansion are currently unknown, the benefits produced by art buddies can be witnessed by all involved.

“My students live for art class with the GVSU students,” Cavazos said. “They really feel a part of the college scene, and we all wish we could come out more than three times a semester…. The arts are so important to students with disabilities because they are unique learners and the arts allow them to explore their learning styles while helping them be successful in something other than book work.”



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