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Artful Teaching

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School of Art Education alumnus Ryan Kurada with his first grade class at University Elementary School at La Fiesta. Photo courtesy of Ryan Kurada.

Sitting in his history of art education class at the Academy of Art University, Ryan Kurada was inspired by a philosophy that would shape his future as a teacher. Kurada graduated from the School of Art Education in Fall 2013 and has been a full-time teacher at University Elementary School at La Fiesta in Rohnert Park, California, for two years.

It was at the Academy where he learned about an education philosophy that originated in Reggio Emilia, Italy. A philosophy that integrates art across the curriculum to teach all types of learners.

Another project, the art of light, had students study different properties of light by drawing shadows of objects they found on the school playground. They explored luminosity using long-exposure photography and experimented with reflectivity by creating foil-relief works.

This method of teaching is meant to foster curiosity, togetherness, retention and reach all styles of learners, including those who suffer from learning or social disorders. It has garnered some incredible results. Kurada sentimentally recalled the transformation of one anxiety-ridden, reclusive student.

“I use art as a powerful vehicle for learning,” Kurada said. “This style of learning speaks to kids more. It’s tangible and concrete. It creates a greater attachment to learning.”

For students in Kurada’s first grade classroom, every day is a day to create. During an average school day, students work together on classroom-wide, hands-on art projects. Aside from some traditional styles of learning; science, social studies and math are taught through art projects inspired by the curiosity of Kurada’s students.

One such project was a bird project, where students made papier-mâché birds, created nests out of art supplies and visited a nearby creek, all while learning about the species’ way of life.

“It brings so much joy to the students,” said Kurada about this artful style of teaching. “They look forward to coming to school.” In fact, his class has the highest attendance of any first grade classroom at University Elementary.

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Photo courtesy of Ryan Kurada.

“At first, he was like a hardened-egg. He didn’t want to do anything,” Kurada said. “But when we did projects, he really began to talk and work with the other students. He started to crack that shell.”

  These results are no doubt in part due to his years of dedication to art-integrated teaching and his passion to improve his students’ education. Former Director of the School of Art Education and mentor of Kurada, KD Kurtz talked about Kurada’s empathetic quality as a teacher, his attentiveness to his students and the constant need he has to improve his teaching.

“Teachers must be reflective. This is something Ryan understood intuitively,” Kurtz said. “He has the ability to create a strong connectivity between his students and the subjects.”

Aside from his strong teaching abilities, Kurtz said what a pleasure Ryan was to work with and what a gentle, forthright and determined person he was.

And for his students, well they love Kurada too. As part of the Academy’s art education program, students must complete field work prior to graduating. Kurada completed a variety of field work, committing more hours than the program required. He spent months as a student teacher at New Traditions Creative Arts Elementary School working alongside Master Teacher Meg Sandine.

“He was just great with students. Just the sweetest,” Sandine said. “If he was my teacher, I would never want to leave first grade. They will never forget him.”