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Young artists in training

DALLAS -- Second-grader Maisy McAllister summed up masterfully the mission of the after-school art class she attends each week at Oakdale Heights Elementary School.

Maisy McAllister, 7, shows off her artwork to her grandfather, Jim Fitcha, at an art show at Oakdale Heights Dec. 13.

Photo by Pete Strong

Maisy McAllister, 7, shows off her artwork to her grandfather, Jim Fitcha, at an art show at Oakdale Heights Dec. 13.

December 31, 2012

DALLAS -- Second-grader Maisy McAllister summed up masterfully the mission of the after-school art class she attends each week at Oakdale Heights Elementary School.

"I like that you can create your own stuff," she said.

The class is called "Peeking Through the Window of Art with Mrs. C." And like all art courses "Mrs. C" -- Mary Christensen -- orchestrates, there is plenty of history blended in.

Most of all, though, it's about letting students explore their creativity through examining the work of others and trying those techniques out for themselves.

"They don't get any art (in school) and it's really good for them," Christensen said.

With budgets tight, there are fewer and fewer resources for teaching art, especially for elementary school students. Christensen, through a partnership with the Dallas School District, offers art sessions once a week after school. She divides classes into three age groups: young elementary students, fourth- and fifth-graders and middle school students.

More than just a time to stretch creativity, Christensen said exploring art exercises parts of the brain most people associate with more left-brain learning activities and helps children excel in other subjects.

"Art is problem-solving," Christensen said. "If they want to be a mathematician, they need creative minds, to be able to think outside the box."

Student work from the first part of the school year was on display at an art show at Oakdale Heights before winter break. Portraits -- drawn without picking up the pencil -- and pieces inspired by the work of Impressionists Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Franz Marc were displayed by age group.

"This is quite a show," Christensen said. "These kids are unbelievable ... I'm just so proud of them."

The artists Christensen chose to study were part of the German Impressionist movement that began shortly before World War I. A former teacher at Pedee School, now part of Luckiamute Valley Charter School, Christensen weaves the historical context for the artists' work into her lessons about the art itself. She will do the same with a study of African-American painter Jacob Lawrence when sessions resume after winter break.

Ainsley Cornman, a third-grader, said the project she liked best was re-creating Franz Marc's painting entitled "Blue Horse."

"That's my favorite color and my favorite animal," she said.

Ainsley has been involved in the after-school program for about three years and seems to enjoy the endeavor.

"The class is challenging, fun, hard and sometimes really exciting," she said.

Give It A Try

* Sessions are taught at Oakdale Heights Elementary School for children up to third grade, at Whitworth Elementary School for fourth- and fifth-graders, and middle school sessions are at LaCreole Middle School. Each four-week session costs $35.

For more information or to enroll your student, call Mary Christensen at 503-507-9303.

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