POST | This is Rochester

ART SCHOOL [article] || UofR VIDEO

An incredible partnership between the Memorial Art Gallery and the Rochester City School District gives kids access, opportunity, and inspiration.


On particular Fridays from early fall to late spring, you may happen upon groups of children and adults weaving their way through the Neighborhood of the Arts, laughing, chatting amongst themselves, or generally enjoying their surroundings. You may pass them wondering what they’re up to, smile and wave as you drive by, or simply dismiss them as part of your day. To the students, however, every step from School #23 on Barrington Street to the Memorial Art Gallery is a foot forward in learning, growing and making connections, whether they realize it or not.

The students of School #23 have a curriculum a bit different from that of their peers; instead of experiencing a six-and-a-half-hour school day, they have an extra hour. It’s called Expanded Learning Time, and the purpose is to gain access to enrichment opportunities that they otherwise might not have access to. Within this supplementary time frame, students receive additional attention to their core curriculum, elective opportunities, and the ability to enhance their classroom learning by partnering with community organizations and businesses such as the Memorial Art Gallery, which will be starting their fifth year together in September 2017.

“We are an Expanded Learning Time school, which is a longer school day,” says John Gonzalez, principal of School #23 and former director of Expanded Learning Time in the district.

“It’s not after school, it’s not before school, it’s a long school day to do things differently for our students. We provide students with enrichment opportunities that they wouldn’t necessarily get in a traditional school setting.”

Teacher Rose Van Tyne
PHOTO CAPTION: Teacher Rose Van Tyne turns art concepts learned in the classroom into an understanding of the larger world.

Gonzalez says the reactions to the partnership from students and their families are very positive. “Parents volunteer to walk the mile with their children from school to the museum and form a bond in that way. Students are exposed to works of art that they potentially may not have been exposed to. Then they go into the art lab and create art based on what their learning was earlier in the day. They make interpretations of their own, ask questions, and form a deeper understanding.”

The official title of the program is MAG RSCD ELT (Memorial Art Gallery Rochester City School District Expanded Learning Time) and was founded by Marlene Hamann-Whitmore, director of Academic Programs at the MAG, along with Rhonda Morien, then principal of School #23 and current principal of School #45. It has been cultivated since with love and compassion by a team of dedicated educators.

Sessions run for elementary students in ten-week intervals in the fall, winter, and spring on Fridays, which have expanded to Mondays to include schools #29 and #45. In the summer, program and school staff work together to create a new curriculum for the coming year, and they meet regularly to tweak the program according to the students’ needs.

“Our job was to tie in as seamlessly as possible what the teachers were doing in the classroom to make strong curriculum connections, to help the children understand that what’s going on in the classroom is not a discrete event,” explains Whitmore. “It’s one way of learning about that particular concept, which is really a larger part of the bigger world. Here’s someone who’s made a painting about what it’s like to be in the natural world, or a sculpture as a reaction to war. Or a painting about the Erie Canal. They are actual living, breathing teaching documents, teaching with objects that relate to the concepts that are happening in the classroom.”

Education for the young students goes beyond making classroom connections, as well. Marlene tells us that they work on 21st-century skills—non-cognitive, social and emotional skills such as holding doors for others, being respectful, using level zero voices, manners and respect.

Forward-thinking educators like Hamann-Whitmore and Gonzalez hope that others in the community will see how the students thrive in this type of environment and encourage them to use community resources and partner with supportive businesses.

POST | photo by Thomas Flint

Eight-year-old Colden Buzzell from School #23 has participated in the program during first and second grade. “I got to see lots of different kinds of art and then got to have a chance to try to do something similar,” he says.

While at the MAG, he spotted a scroll with monkeys and a moon reflecting in the water. This led him to work on his favorite art piece, a scroll in which he drew a dragon-type creature, which resides now on his bedroom wall among other projects he has created. His mother, Leslie, says that he refers to the program as “super-duper.”

This unique experience with the MAG also clicked unexpectedly outside of Rochester, when Leslie took her children to New York City.

“I was so surprised at his interest in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we spent a day. I thought we’d only get a couple hours in before the kids were bored, but because of his experience at the MAG (and my older daughter who was one of the first classes at #23 to do the program), they were very comfortable in the art museum setting, looked at the art, read the signs, and had things to say about the pieces we looked at. I credit their MAG experience with that!”

If you happen to pass a group of children in the Neighborhood of the Arts walking with a sense of purpose, give them a respectful wave or a smile knowing that you’re helping to make a friendly connection from classroom, to their environment, to the arts and, finally, expression.


Watch a UofR produced video on the MAG–RCSD Expanded Learning Collaboration