AHS project provides life lesson in consumption

Published 5:01 am Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Austin High School students will get creative about the effects of consumption this spring, thanks to a grant from the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

Art teacher Lisa Beschnett, science teacher Kate Schoonover and economics teacher Rayce Hardy are partnering to integrate art and creativity into traditionally uncreative material, namely the effect human consumption of materials — like energy sources and minerals — has on society, and what role art has in making a statement on consumption.

“I teach mainly photography, but I’ve always wanted to find ways for students in their art to say more about the world around them,” Beschnett said. “The arts are such an amazing way for kids to express what they learn and what they know at a higher level of understanding.”

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Beschnett got the idea after attending a Perpich seminar, where she heard about a project the biggest arts-dedicated school in the state started in northwest Minnesota three years ago.

Perpich Arts Integration Network of Teachers (PAINT) projects involve creating new lessons which combines arts and other subjects which, according to Beschnett, will help students better understand the material.

That’s where Hardy and Schoonover come in. Each teacher will assign a photo series of four photographs to their students based on the class. Hardy’s economics students will focus on showing how consumption choices are made on personal, community, and government levels, while Schoonover’s environmental sciences students will deal with the effects of consumption in levels of the Earth’s atmosphere. Beschnett’s students will design a photo series based on an economic or environmental issue of their choice.

According to Beschnett, students will complete these assignments in March, wrapping up the unit by mid-April.

The lesson will hopefully spark creativity in students, as Beschnett pointed out several studies and surveys which show creativity levels in students have dropped over the past 10 to 15 years as industrial technology has made incredible advances.

“The studies are showing students are losing their ability to create,” she said.

AHS students will benefit from these lessons for the next three years, as Beschnett said Austin Public Schools is receiving a $4,500 grant in state Legacy funding each year until 2015. While some of that money will go to traveling and training expenses, much of the funding will help bring in visiting artists and allow for substitute teachers on days where Beschnett, Hardy and Schoonover need to teach one class together.

“If we don’t have the ability to travel to one another’s classes, it’s really hard to do a deep, integrated unit like this,” Beschnett said. “Teachers don’t have the time to give.”