University of Wisconsin-Stout art education student Taylor Gardner loved the experience of painting a three-dimensional mural at Oaklawn Elementary School and interacting with students.
“I’d never done anything like it before,” said Gardner, a senior from Prior Lake, Minn. “It gave me another experience in the way I worked with students. They were excited to see it being painted and excited to be a part of it.”
About five students helped paint the foam clouds that were added to the mural, which starts above some bookshelves in the school library and depicts an open storybook which has a beanstalk that winds up past rainbows, several animals with books, kites and hot air balloons to a castle on the top. The near 18-foot by 25-foot mural was started in early January and was completed in late January.
Gardner is an intern with Arts Integration Menomonie, a grant-funded program through UW-Stout’s College of Education that partners with the Menomonie school district. AIM collaborated with the school in the installation of the mural.
“Art is super important,” Gardner said. “I think it helps students learn.”
AIM provides future opportunities for art educators like her, Gardner said. AIM helps them gain experience working with students, allows them to explore and learn how to engage students and impact their teaching competence, confidence and well-being.
Gardner worked on the mural with mentors Tami Weiss, AIM executive director and a UW-Stout art education professor, and Ann Oberling, UW-Stout art education director.
“The mural represents something more than a great art project,” Weiss said. “It represents a journey of Gardner as an artist and art teacher. The kids in school got to watch the story unfold before their eyes as the mural was made. Along the way they were amazed, and they were curious what this story is about. They were excited and brought their own stories to the mural. They will continue to bring their own stories to the mural.”
AIM is about teachers and students partnering in education, learning from each other to create and teaching one another in and through the arts, Weiss said.
AIM looks to improve teachers’ abilities and confidence as they are starting in their profession and encourage retention. “By integrating art into education, it provides another way of reaching students in creative ways,” Weiss said. “We are about mentoring and supporting our preservice teachers, They are not in this career alone. We have a tremendous community that will support them.”
Through AIM, students like Gardner can be paid in teaching-related internships as they create art and work with younger students at elementary schools and in the community, Weiss said. “We are able to financially support these students who are learning to become teachers while putting themselves through college,” she noted.
Murals have also been made at other Menomonie schools. Downsville Elementary School has a bottle cap mural; Wakanda and Knapp elementary schools have mosaic murals; and River Heights Elementary School has a painted mural in the school library. All the elementary schools in the Menomonie district have miniature Mabel Tainter theaters for students.
AIM is also working on creating a Lego maker space on the second floor of the University Library at UW-Stout that will be open to the community. “It’s a great way to solidify a partnership between the university and the community,” Weiss said. There already is a dramatic play area in the library that creates a teaching space, she noted.
AIM is starting in its sixth year. Through AIM, Menomonie elementary teachers have opportunities to work with professional artists in their classrooms to integrate circus arts, storytelling, music, or visual art into their curriculum. UW-Stout preservice teachers gain hands-on experience, working alongside mentor teachers in local schools and teaching a range of arts-based classes within the community.
The program was honored with the Department of Public Instruction’s 2017 Standing Up for Rural Wisconsin Schools, Libraries and Communities Award.
Gardner so enjoyed being a part of AIM, she is applying for a spring internship with the program. “It just gives me so many opportunities,” Gardner said. “I had never painted anything like this mural. I had done more studio art. This really improved my painting and teaching skills.”
The mural depicts a storybook opening to the worlds of the imagination.
Gardner, at right, with Arts Integration Menomonie executive director Tami Weiss.