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Education \ Art is not an extra but an integral part of this school, writes Cheryl CritChley


isitors to Geelong Grammar’s Toorak Campus are greeted by dragons, turtles and an elephant. The brightly coloured ceramic creatures playfully snake their way up two totem poles designed and created by the school’s grade 5 students. Each grade 5 student designed and constructed an object of meaning that told a story. Ceramic kookaburras, penguins, birds and even a treehouse were placed atop each other to form the symbolic works. The finished product sits in a small garden and welcomes visitors, never failing to enchant. But there is much more to this delightful children’s artwork than meets the eye. Visual art co-ordinator Sarah Bell, who worked with the children throughout the project, says it typifies the school’s emphasis on creativity, resilience and positivity. “Each piece had personal meaning for the kids,” Bell says. “We were looking at positive values that we wanted to place in the school to create a visual metaphor that reflected, for them, meaning.” The treehouse at the top represents personal freedom, the elephant stands for achieving the big things in life and the kookaburra reflects humour. Finding meaning and beauty in the everyday is a hallmark of Bell’s career as an artist and of the school’s International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP). Geelong Grammar’s Toorak Campus, which has 360 students from its Early Learning Centre (ELC) to grade 6, became Victoria’s first PYP school in 1998. The program is inquiry-based and explores themes across various subjects. At the start of each year, Bell and her colleagues collaborate on how they will introduce learning activities across a range of themes. Art is not an extra but an integral part of the program, which is music to the ears of this talented painter and printmaker. In a recent example, grade 3 students explored how brains think and learn through science (dissecting sheep brains), physical education (brain training games), music (visual, kinesthetic and auditory learning) and art (drawing with the right side of the brain). Bell enjoyed art as a child but did not get to focus on it like today’s students do. She grew up in Sydney and attended Killara High School before her family returned to their home town of Melbourne, where she completed 30 The weekly review \ DECEMBER 11, 2013

years 11 and 12 at St Leonard’s College in Brighton. Bell’s late father ran several businesses but was also creative, fashioning furniture in his spare time. Her mother was a PE teacher. “My earliest memories are of sitting in the garage while my dad designed and constructed all of our furniture,” Bell says. Her parents were sporty, but Bell’s mother later told her that her father also used to draw and sketch. Bell enjoyed sport but preferred art. “I just found myself at home in the art room at lunch time with all the other arty and musical kids,” she says. Artistic careers were limited when Bell finished high school and they mainly related to fine art or graphics. She completed a foundation year at the Prahran College of Advanced Education before winning a place at the Victorian College of the Arts, where she majored in printmaking. “It was the Whitlam years, so it was free education,” she says. “You could live away from home virtually on $50 a week. They were the most exciting years of my life. I could spend 50 hours a week on my work.” After teaching community arts and exhibiting for several years, she completed her diploma of education in 2003 at Monash University. While doing this she also raised daughters Lili, 23, who sings in the Melbourne band Lurch & Chief and studies marketing, and Rosie, 21, who studies fashion design at RMIT. Bell worked in several schools on short-term contracts before joining Geelong Grammar’s Toorak Campus in 2006. She works three days a week and fellow art teacher Justine Siedle works the other two. Together they plan a dynamic art program that covers a broad range of two and three-dimensional artforms and mediums, and links to classroom units of inquiry that are all student-driven. Positive education principles and inquiry-based learning, the hallmark of PYP, are woven into the curriculum where relevant. Developed from Professor Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology model, Positive Education gives children life tools such as resilience, confidence and optimism. “The arts are a way that students can flourish, and drawing can help children makes sense and construct meaning about their world,” Bell says. Every two years the school holds an exhibition of work by all children from ELC to grade 6. This year’s

(darren james)

Art of positive learning

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Twr stonnington 20131211 iss  

Twr stonnington 20131211 iss