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Innovative Teaching and Learning in the Arts

Portland Public Schools educators have shared some recent examples of innovative teaching and learning in the arts in our schools this year. Read on to learn more details:

Creative artwork from Portland Public Schools students is included in the Portland Museum of Art’s annual Youth Art Month exhibition showcasing the incredible talent in Maine’s art education programs.Every year in March, in collaboration with the Maine Art Education Association (MAEA), the PMA presents artwork made by Maine students statewide in kindergarten through grade 12. Youth Art Month also is an opportunity to highlight the art educators  and the importance of and access to quality art programs. After several years of being virtual during the pandemic, Youth Art Month has returned to the PMA walls in 2023! You can view the artwork of students from East End, Ocean Avenue, Reiche and Talbot elementary schools and from Portland and Deering high schools as well as PATHS at the exhibition, located on the lower ground floor of the PMA. The show runs from March 1 through April 2, and also can be viewed digitally on PMA's website. Learn more. Photo: "Cake," a ceramic work by Emma Hutton, Deering High School junior, that is included in the 2023 Youth Art Month exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art.


On Feb. 17, PPS High School Orchestra students from Portland High School performed as part of the 39th Citizenship Ceremony at U.S. District Court in Portland. The ceremonies are profoundly moving events and the PPS High School Orchestra has been performing in the ceremonies twice a year since 2002, said music director and orchestra conductor Julianne Eberl. “I am so proud of our students from PHS, the first group to perform since the pandemic suspended the ceremony,” Eberl said. Music the orchestra performed included: Simple Gifts, Shaker Hymn; Ashokan Farewell, from Ken Burns' "Civil War;" La Rejouissance; Rondeau (Theme music for "Masterpiece Theatre"); Mouret; Over the Rainbow; "Finale" from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5; Three Catalonian Songs; and Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate. See more photos.


At Reiche Community School, fifth-graders in art teacher Allison Villani's class are working on making a "crankie" story. Crankies, an art form that originated in the late 18th century, are moving panoramas. Crankies combine music, stories and poetry with back-lit art that is scrolled through a viewing box, in this case a wooden crankie theater. Villani received a Foundation for Portland Public Schools grant to have the theater built last year by the Shoestring Theater's Greg Frangoulis. (Crankie theater and crankie artwork shown in photos above.) "The lesson is a layered process for an exciting, yet quick, result," Villain explained. "The lesson involves collaboration, as students are teamed up in groups of three or four. They learn how to work together and compromise by listening to each other's ideas. It involves storytelling, illustration and shadow puppets. Some students choose to perform the story with music, or by singing the story. Other's simply narrate the story. Performing takes a minimum of two people, but usually three. One person cranks (moves) the scroll with the illustrations and narrates the story. Another person or two manipulate the shadow puppets." Villani said she films each performance so that the performers can actually see their show! "Their work is very impressive," she said. "This year's crankies are made by collaging papers that the students made onto the scroll. Very beautiful."

The Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization and the East End Community School arts program have joined in an exciting collaboration to bring the first annual student art show into the community. Art created by EECS elementary students will be on display at the MHNO's Hill House on Friday, March 10, from 5-8 p.m. for the gala opening, with the show continuing on Saturday, March 11, from noon to 3 p.m. The Hill House is at 92 Congress Street at the corner of Atlantic Street. EECS is one of the district’s most diverse schools. Students and families come from many countries and speak more than 30 different home languages. Art is a language that all EECS students share. The school has a vibrant art program, headed by art teacher Melissa Maher, known for her enthusiasm for art and her dedication to her students.MHNO Board Member and former arts educator Carol Connor is working with Ms. Maher to produce the show. This event coincides with the national recognition of March as Youth Art Month, which promotes art education.

Also at East End Community School, art teacher Melissa Maher shared that all her K-5 students recently completed work in the medium of printmaking while working toward meeting the Maine Visual Arts Standards. Kindergarten students used found objects to print patterns. First-grade students created prints from tissue paper weavings and added patterns to their work. Second-grade students created collagraphs from cardboard and found object printing plates which they printed and sent through the printing press. Third-grade students created radial designs by printing four prints around a center point from the plates they created on foam. Fourth- and fifth-grade students worked on gelli plates creating positive and negative prints and experimenting with other methods of gelli printing using stencils they created. This printmaking work follows a ceramics unit during which all pre-K through grade 5 students created, glazed and fired work in clay. Every fifth-grade student created a functional mug with a unique design and glaze.

The Portland Public Schools All-City Concert will take place at 4 p.m. on March 15 at Deering High School. It will feature music students in band, orchestra, and chorus from all the high schools and middle schools.

Portland High School is presenting a series of after-school jam sessions and performances on March 20, 21, 23 and 24 from 2:45-3:45 p.m. Groups featured will include a rock band, a jazz ensemble, an AfroBeat group, and a "jam band."

Music teacher Jayne Sawtelle and art teacher Heather Gilbert are connecting diverse learners and tapping into students' unique passions in a new pilot course at Portland High School. The educators are piloting the course with students who are learning English to help them develop academic language around the arts, while providing high-level art experiences. For instance, Sawtelle explained, the students drum complex patterns and create music with steel pans while reading and repeating words like "pattern, repetition and copy.” After exploring those concepts in music classes, they then go to art classes to learn what those words mean in the visual arts. “So far, kids seem to really enjoy it, and they are definitely building their academic vocabulary,” Sawtelle said.

Deering High School Drama Club will put on a one-act show, "The Collective," by Brent Holland, on March 8 at 6:30 p.m. at that school. The play explores whether or not humanity has progressed enough as a species for inclusion into “The Collective.” The play is described as very thought-provoking and has a powerful conclusion. Also, DHS students have used “Painting with a Purpose” grants to create original mural artwork for the school building. The DHS freshman class is working with a teacher to offer a school wide talent showcase.

Rowe Elementary School welcomed Little House Dance company for a school-wide performance on Feb. 14 Students were invited to participate in contemporary genre. Prior to February break, the school's fifth-grade band and strings performed for Rowe  kindergarten students. A Wabanaki artist creating a mural at the school with grant funds the school's art teacher and Breathe teacher received for that project.

Peaks Island Elementary School has a preK through grade 5 Art Show on exhibit at the Peaks branch of the Portland Public Library that has been curated by PIES' art teacher Laura Glendenning. It features beautiful murals, watercolors and pottery created by our young island artists! The public is invited to come out and enjoy!

At Lyman Moore Middle School, music teacher Tammy Carusone and art teacher Jess Crowley are launching new electives for Moore eighth-graders starting March 13 that include Drama, Introduction to Piano and Exploring Crafts and Photography. Crowley continues to provide after-school workshops on specific themes/skills, from jewelry making to working with clay, that are available to all Moore students. For example, the focus of a March 9 workshop is the fiber arts: knitting, crochet and weaving. Carusone also recently presented at a conference on trauma informed music education.

Talbot Community School students' recent "Beautiful Blackbird Art Project" was inspired by the book "Beautiful Blackbird" by Coretta Scott King Award winner Ashley Bryan. This book is about appreciating one’s heritage and discovering the beauty within. Students were read the book in art class, taking care to look at the images closely to understand the true meaning of the story. The book tells of Blackbird, who was voted the most beautiful bird in the forest, with his shiny black feathers reflecting all the colors of the rainbow. The other birds, who were colored red, yellow, blue, and green, were so envious that they begged Blackbird to paint their feathers with a touch of black so they could be beautiful too. Although Blackbird warns them that true beauty comes from within, the other birds persist and soon each is given a ring of black around their neck or a dot of black on their wings—markings that detail birds to this very day. The students’ art was made using cut-paper collage, and a gloss medium to make their blackbird shiny and reflective.

Lyseth Elementary School had a Black History Month Read in February, which was a collaboration between the school's librarian, art teacher and Lyseth families. Families joined the classes in the library to read aloud books by Black authors in multiple languages. There was a follow up activity in art classes, with students studying Black artists and modeling their styles. 

Longfellow Elementary School held an arts night in January that included musical performances and art displays glittering in the hallways.
Casco Bay High School students performed a student-written one act play on March 3 at Yarmouth High School as part of the One Act Play Festival. CBHS ninth-graders are finishing up a new interdisciplinary project between geometry and art called “Ode to Oldenburg” in which students create large-scaled versions of everyday objects.
Reiche Community School held a Chorus, Band and Strings Concert on March 6 and will hold a Spring Concert in May. The school's Talent Show is set for April 11.