Students from Tinton Falls’ Mahala F. Atchison School showcased a school year’s worth or artwork, including hard bound books that they wrote and illustrated, at the 2011 Art Show on Thursday.
The theme of the March 31 show was “Illustration of the Imagination,” a motif bound together by the creation of student written and illustrated books, which are included in the display and connected directly to the language arts core curriculum of the school.
MFA art teacher Kristina Montuoro developed this year’s theme and centerpiece work by elaborating on other subject curriculum areas, which in previous years have included science and social studies.
Her choice to involve the MFA language arts instruction in her lesson plan meant that the students began sketching illustrations in her class for books that they were drafting and writing in their regular classrooms, beginning as early as November. Students only work with Montuoro once a week for 42 minutes, she said.
Students wrote and illustrated the books, which were professionally bound in hardcover. First and second grade students bound one book per language arts classroom and third graders were given the opportunity to bind individual books for each student.
All class books were themed “Making a Difference.” The students were asked the questions: What can you do to make a difference in the world? What can you do to make the world a better place?
“It could be something that can be done now,” Montuoro said, “or something that is being done or something that could be done in the future.”
Montuoro said that creative expression and writing was the focus, with less rigid attention given to spelling and grammar.
“Kids were encouraged to sound out their word—to “kid spell”— to write without worrying too much about spelling and to communicate with their drawings,” she said. “They were even allowed to tell their story with no words, as long as the message was clear. This is pure writing, directly from their minds without much revision or correction.”
Montuoro’s work with the kids throughout her four-year tenure at the school, five years in the district, has also always involved and stressed the importance of “eco-art,” requesting and using recycled materials. She said she encourages students to be resourceful and creative with available materials to illustrate the environmental message and to expand their minds.
“I collect all sorts of packaging materials, boxes, cardboard tubes and pizza boxes,” she said. “I have colleagues, parents and students bring in things for me just because they thought it was a cool piece of garbage and they knew I would put it to use. Why not keep these things out of a landfill?”
Montuoro hopes that parents will, just like her students, come away from the work with two important impressions. “I want parents to recognize that while some children might struggle academically, they can excel in performing the arts,” she said.
“I also want them to learn from their children and from me about the importance of caring for the environment and each other,” she said. “Our world is in turmoil in many places and it is essential now more than ever to become tolerant, accepting, compassionate and understanding of our differences … and to embrace them. We all need to grow as humans.”