It is 4 p.m. on a December afternoon, and a dozen middle-school students cluster around a bucket of gooey white liquid at the front of a classroom at Legacy Charter School in Greenville. Each clutches an unglazed clay plate as they await instructions about what to do next.
Standing over the bucket, Emily McPeters ’18, a Furman art major with a focus in ceramics, dips each plate one by one into the white goop in the bucket. She explains that the liquid is a ceramic glaze that will need to dry before the students can move on to the next step.
These middle schoolers (5th to 8th grade), led by Furman art students, are all participants in an after-school Art Club, a partnership between Legacy Charter School and Furman University that began this past September.
The idea for the Art Club was hatched when Jessica Auguste, the coach of Legacy’s girls’ basketball team met Ross McClain, chair of Furman’s Art Department, last summer when she was working at a sports camp on the Furman campus. In the course of their conversation, McClain learned that the Legacy Charter School was short an art teacher.
McClain mentioned this to Marta Lanier, his department’s art program specialist, and wondered whether Furman art students might be interested in teaching the Legacy kids. “I thought it was a great idea,” declares Lanier, who oversees the Art Club from the Furman side, “as many of our students are interested in teaching and we don’t offer art education classes.”
Lanier got in touch with Elizabeth Toney, instructional coach and special education coordinator at Legacy Charter School, and proposed an after-school art club that would meet every other week. Thirty Legacy students signed up for the club, which is taught by a core group of five Furman art majors. Lanier and the Furman students design the curriculum and Furman provides all the materials for each session.
Back in the Legacy Charter classroom, the kids retrieve their plates after the glaze is dry and take them to their seats. Now comes the fun part: painting the plates.
Laurie, a 7th-grader, is painting a “pirate fox” on her plate, while Stephanie (7th grade) brushes on a rainbow, and Aaliyah (6th grade) decorates her plate with a snowflake. “I like making the plates,” Laurie says, “because I can use my own ideas and no one tells me what to do.”
It’s this type of artistic freedom of expression that keeps the kids excited about the club. “It’s great that the students are able to have an after-school experience with a set goal that they can be proud of,” states Toney, who sponsors the club. Going forward, she would like to see the Art Club work on a piece, such as a mural, that could be displayed permanently at the school.
The collaboration between Furman University and the Legacy Charter School is a win-win for both groups of students. “I am constantly inspired by the Legacy students’ tenacity to succeed despite the hindrance of their socio-economic backgrounds,” says Alexis Hawkins ’17, “and I’m absolutely honored to be a part of their middle-school education. This art club allows students’ imaginations and dreams to come into fruition as they get to work with college students who have sat in their positions just years before.”
“These kids have the best energy and are truly excited to try out new projects,” adds Rowan Griscom ’17. “Their creativity really shines and they have a lot of fun with art. They always have me laughing throughout the entire class. Teaching the art club for these kids is the highlight of my week.”
Elizabeth Toney sees it from yet another perspective. “Our school’s mission is that every student goes to and completes college, so being able to build a relationship with the Furman students is so beneficial to them.”
For the kids, it’s simpler than that. “I love Art Club,” Stephanie exclaims, “because we can do whatever we want—and I like getting my hands messy!”
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