Collaged fall trees made of student artwork from Egremont Elementary School

Egremont fifth-graders shine, grow with collaborative art class

PITTSFIELD — Fifth-grade teacher Judy Callahan noticed during her fall Zoom classes that students who had shied away from sharing or raising their hands in the virtual classroom suddenly lit up when it was time for the 30-minute BRAINworks session with IS183 teachers.

“The majority of students were excited to begin the sessions,” said Callahan of her Egremont Elementary School class. “When it was time to share, they would hold up their work to the screens, even kids who didn’t participate during math or reading would share. They value the time to shine in these moments, even more so these days.”

BRAINworks, or Berkshire Regional Arts Integration Network, is a collaboration between local public schools, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ Arts Management Program, and the countywide Berkshire Compact for Education. The initiative offers local teachers the chance to work with and learn from members of the county’s cultural institutions to help them integrate the arts into everyday lesson plans to engage students in a new way.

The four, 30-minute virtual sessions held in the beginning of the school year were a collaboration between Callahan, a BRAINworks educator, and IS183 Art School of the Berkshires. The students learned the basics of collage and frottage — a colorful texture-rubbing visual art technique — from IS183 educators Lucie Castaldo and Brielle Rizzotti, while Callahan would later add science and social-emotional learning into the lesson using the different parts of the trees the students were creating.

“It’s so important that in a time like this we can still integrate the arts into our everyday learning,” Callahan said. She would talk about the tree bark they were making, she said, and point out how the bark protects trees, then ask, “Who protects you? Who makes you feel safe?”

After the students completed the different components, Castaldo and Rizzotti gathered the materials from about 13 students and created a large tree collage made up of all the fifth-graders individual bark, branches and leaves. The pieces — which are on display at the Brothership Building Window, 141 North St., Pittsfield as part of First Fridays ArtsWalk — fit together to form a colorful patchwork of trees, in an almost symbolic gesture of different subjects, interests and skills coming together.

“It felt good to be a part of something so big like this,” said Jacob Herzberg, 10, when asked how it felt to participate in this project, especially during remote learning. “... I learned that I can be a good artist.”

While classmate Brady McCullough, 10, said it was “not easy” to learn the art techniques over Zoom, his favorite part was “working with the teachers [who were] different than a normal school day.”

“I learned that I enjoy doing different types of art,” he said.

Link to full Berkshire Eagle article