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Art Projects Energize Students

Amola Smith is convinced she can change the way children look at their environment by giving them the power to change it. Signs of her idea can be seen throughout Columbus Magnet School, in the mosaics that brighten the stairways and in the recent storyboard project that still has the children talking. Signs can also be seen at the Montessori Middle School, where students designed a sculpture that was built and installed by a professional artist.

"I'm trying to start a nonprofit called Empowered Through Art, which is teaching the children to take pride in their school and transform it through art." says Smith. "Not art that another artist has created [but] art that the kids have come up with." Smith, who studied interior design and is the parent of a former Columbus pupil, wants to spread her concept to every school in Norwalk. She has a partner: Mark Stephenson, an educator, artist and parent, has been a technical advisor on the projects and on the materials used in the permanent installations.

The Columbus mosaics were done three years ago by both pupils and adults. After being told about Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel and Matisse's colorful collages, the children did sketches, then made collages of the sketches. The school's beautification committee -- comprised of students -- chose one collage per grade level, which was then transformed into a mosaic by everyone at Columbus, from kindergartners to the janitors.

For the storyboard project, each grade level did part of the painting along a common theme: a unit of learning they worked on. Then each child made his or her own small storyboard illustrating a lyric of a song about the school.

At the Montessori School the process of "real live art" was similar. The children sketched their ideas and then made models, one of which was chosen by the sculptor.

Columbus fourth-grade teacher Betsy Barosky is sold on what Amola is doing. "It has been my experience that children get more involved with learning when they have 'ownership' of their work," she said. "This ultimately leads to their success in the classroom and ultimately, believing in themselves. It is my opinion that this empowerment is the key to the future of education."

Smith's hoped-for nonprofit is in its beginning stages. "I'm working on the Web site, I'm contacting schools," she said. "We talked to Norwalk Public Library to see if they're interested in a big mural there."

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