Twenty Berkshire County Head Start students have added several new words to their vocabularies in recent weeks, including "gallery," "mural," "sculpture" and "Bud."
Bud? Yes, Bud, as in security guard Bud Reddington who works at the Clark Art Institute.
The children have grown fond of him since he also appears as a character in a booklet created for the pilot program, "Head Start with Art @ The Clark," which concluded its inaugural session on Wednesday.
"Arts and culture are so important for children this age," said Berkshire County Head Start teacher Peggy Shartrand. "It's giving them the opportunity to grow and expand their learning, and literacy and language."
Her class of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds from the Johnson School site in North Adams have been the first to engage with the Clark's new curriculum.
Stacy Parsons, executive director of Berkshire County Head Start, said the new program was developed in direct response to the federal sequestration cuts in Head Start funding which caused the North Adams site to close a classroom this year.
"The Clark recognized the role it could play in restoring culturally and socially enriching experiences that Head Start children may not otherwise have the opportunity to take part in," Parsons said.
The program was led by Monica Henry, education coordinator, and Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer, head of education programs at the Clark, with support from Head Start classroom teachers. The educators made one visit to the students' classroom and the students made three field trips to the museum, all funded through the Clark.
"It really got me to do more thinking from the teacher's aspect and what's important for them to do in the classroom," Henry said.
Parsons said the new program also fits the Head Start mission of engaging parents as a child's first teacher.
"A child's level with art reflects their level of development, so we explain to parents how to understand their children's art and interpret it," said Bonnie Dearaway, a Berkshire County Head Start family advocate.
On Wednesday morning, the youngsters ruled as docents at the Clark's Stone Hill Center. In one gallery, students' watercolor paintings, clay sculptures and collages were on display. In adjacent galleries, students also shared with visitors their observations of classic works, from the likes of Pietro Perugino, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and George Inness, among other masters.
Tessa Gonzalez and her classmate Cheyanne Pearson, both 5, stood and pondered Ridolfo Ghirlandaio's 16th-century "Portrait of a Man." In it, the subject wears a squarish black cap.
"He looks like he's going to graduation," Gonzalez observed. Pearson nodded with gusto then the two skipped off to the next painting.
Four-year-old Gabriel Boyd was all smiles as he showed off his two watercolor works -- one depicting an alligator, the other a swirling mass of dark colors he described as a haunted house.
"He's been talking about this every day," said Ashely Boyd, who attended Wednesday's showcase with her husband, Aaron Boyd.
The mother said the new program has helped foster her son's interest in art. "He loves drawing and coloring. All he's asked for for Christmas is art stuff," she said.
Tulgan Ostheimer said the goal is to continue the program next year with more Head Start classes. She said she also hopes the Clark pilot and curriculum can serve as a national model as to how cultural institutions can partner with early childhood programs.
"Our mission is to try to be responsive to the needs of the community," she said. "This program is designed to meet the needs of teachers and to enable students with kindergarten readiness skills."
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