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Missouri's Placeworks program brings together teaching artists, classroom teachers, and Ozarks students! (Photo by Matt Lemmon)

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The Best Word for Missouri's Placeworks Effort is "Exemplary!"

Springfield, Missouri

June 22, 2016

Editor's Note: One of this year's most exciting place-based grants is the Rural Schools Partnership's $35,000 award to Placeworks. The grant will allow Placeworks' teaching artists to work with a number of rural school teachers and their respective school communities. Special thanks to the Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation of the Commerce Trust for making this grant possible. For more on the collaborative Grants in Place effort, click here. Thank you to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Matt Lemmon for contributing to this story.

Placeworks: Explore. Learn. Create.

Placeworks is an initiative of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks' Rural Schools Partnership, and it operates as a program of the Springfield (MO) Art Museum. Placeworks offers customized, interdisciplinary programs for Ozarks teachers in their classrooms through arts projects, placemaking activities and field trips to the Springfield Art Museum. The program features teaching artists covering a range of areas of expertise including visual art, music, theater, tableau and more.

Here's how it works: Teachers from schools involved in the Rural Schools Partnership apply for Placeworks programming and specify the type of lesson they would like delivered. Past examples range from a Veterans Day presentation to the music videos to school art installations (you can see more at placeworksart.org). With teacher input, Placeworks creates an extensive artistic instructional unit around the subject. If the lesson requires a field trip, it is part of the program provided to schools. Placeworks activities support specific curricular goals, and it brings a new dynamic to arts-based instruction and place-based learning. Like all good place-based learning, there is a "public outcome" to each project.

"We want kids to learn how to think critically, solve problems, work collaboratively, take risks, try again after failing and have confidence in their own ideas," said Kate Baird, museum educator for the Springfield Art Museum, who founded the Placeworks program in 2010. "The arts are an incredibly effective way to teach those things."

Case in Point: An Aerial Adventure

It was a perfect day for kite flying when first graders from Willow Springs Elementary School not only enjoyed their end-of-semester field trip but also tested out the products they created as part of a Placeworks Art Initiative unit.

What began as a creative outlet to explore the life cycle of a butterfly turned into artistic explorations on the connections between art and nature as well as a study of Japanese culture. This integrated learning experience resulted in student-designed and made paper kites, decorated with butterflies by each of the 100 or so first-graders. The colorful aerial creations briefly transformed the orchard at Baker Creek Pioneer Village, near Mansfield,MO, into a kaleidoscopic kite festival.

Willow Springs teacher Kelly Wardle, a graduate of the Ozarks Teacher Corps and Placeworks collaborator, was the point teacher for Placeworks teaching artists Cory Leick, Lillian Fitzpatrick and Will Knauer. She was assisted by several local volunteers, and every adult within shouting distance of the Baker Creek orchard was lured into helping the kids get their kites off the ground on what was a perfectly breezy day in Wright County.

Below: Kelly Wardle flies a kite with her students.

One student, seven-year old Alexis, when asked to reflect on the project, said her favorite thing about butterflies is that they come out of their chrysalis in "all different colors," though she's "partial to the blue ones." She added that the unit helped her learn about "symmetry."

The kite session certainly dovetailed nicely with the first graders' visit to Baker Creek, an heirloom seed company, working farm and throwback pioneer village. Wardle said the planting activities also augmented other science lessons learned by the first graders.

Young Alexis isn't the only person to see "symmetry" in this effort. Purposeful rural school instruction must balance the requirements of the school with the needs of the community. Projects like Placeworks certainly fit that bill.

For more on the Placeworks Art Initiative, which will begin taking applications for the 2016-17 school year soon, please visit www.placeworksart.org. You may also contact the Community Foundation of the Ozarks at 417-864-6199.

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