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Curating Excellence at Tapestry Charter School

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    April Hattori


Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo, New York, an Expeditionary Learning Mentor School, last year created its Museum Studies program for Grades 5 and 6 to improve student skills in developing a high quality culminating product that is critiqued by professionals and contributes to a real world audience. The additional benefit of the program is that it aligns with New York’s Common Core Standards in writing, reading, speaking and listening.

“There was some disconnect among educators and students for exhibiting bodies of student work,” said teacher Nikki Ritchey.  “Educators often demonstrated a lack of satisfaction for the quality found in culminating products and the skills deficits needed for installing or displaying artifacts for showcases.”

Through the Museum Studies program, students participate in programming, create hands-on activities, and install student-based exhibitions. This includes implementing methods in formal critiquing, designing museum exhibit descriptions, developing reflections on practices for the production of artworks and other forms of artifacts to be set-up in an exhibition space. They also learn to educate fellow peers and staff members on the philosophies and practices that are involved in setting-up a museum show. 

The program brings the real world inside the classroom through collaboration with local art galleries and museums, including the Buffalo Science Museum and the Buffalo History Museum.

“Students experience first hand what sharing learning for an authentic audience is all about, and benefit in academic, artistic, and social/emotional domains,” said Hannah Raiken-Schulman, Director of Art Education

Last year, students created a H.O.W. Totem that was based on the Habits of Work, which includes perseverance, integrity, responsibility, and respect (P.I.R.R.). It was publicly displayed at Tapestry.

“H.O.W. is important because if we did not use P.I.R.R., we would not be good students or good people,” 5th grade student Maddie said.

This fall, the Grade 5 & 6 program is beginning its second year. The first year was a learning experience for both teachers and students.

Ritchey found she needed to develop knowledge about museum philosophies in order to activate curiosity.  In addition, she discovered that if the class was to be successful she needed to adopt literacy practices in text comprehension and vocabulary instruction for her at-risk readers. The new practices paid off with less classroom behavior problems and a desire to achieve for low academic students.

“By introducing multiple strategies for reading comprehension, students were less reluctant to read and grew more motivated and engaged in topics based on museology,” Ritchey said. As a result, students were able to acquire strategies in literacy comprehension practices to utilize in other core classes.

Teachers noted that students enjoyed many aspects of the program including the exploration of artwork and artifacts, the details involved in developing an art exhibit, and creating a permanent installation within the Tapestry community.

One student noted:  “We also got better at sharing ideas and dividing work.  But it was the theme of the H.O.W. (Habits of Work) traits that got us through it.  We hope we can bring our inside community together better. Our piece can impact the outside community too.”

Building on the success of last year’s program, this year students will develop an understanding for museum commitment for acquiring, exhibiting, and preserving a given collection and delve deeper into the importance of a museum collection as an educational tool for the community.  In addition, students will demonstrate knowledge of professional careers in acquisitions and provenance policy. They are currently working on identifying their culminating product, but it will likely be based on bringing Tapestry to Buffalo in an art installation implementing real artifacts as well as hand crafted objects.