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Living Legacy: The Junior Docent School Program Fosters Art Education for Over 40 Years!

Student reproduction of Cubi IV by artist David Smith.

Offered at the Museum since 1976, the Junior Docent School Program (JDSP) is a multi-year, multi-visit program for upper elementary students. Legendary Museum Educator Barbara Brown Lee developed the program along with two art-advocating Milwaukee school teachers, and it has since become a model for Museums across the nation, adding depth to art education with its intentional multi-visit design. 

At MAM, the program includes ten themed, docent-guided tours, given to students over the course of three years. In the first year, students learn about the elements of art and are encouraged to investigate works using their senses. In the second year, students make personal and interpersonal connections with art by exploring Portraiture, Wisconsin Stories, and Communities and Traditions. In the third year of JDSP, students extend their understanding of art and history with an American Stories tour and an Antiquities to Contemporary tour—and eventually select a work of art for the culminating capstone graduation project. 

Once a favorite work of art is selected, students learn formal presentation skills, research their artwork and artist, create a reproduction, and showcase imagination with a creative response. Some of the most memorable student responses have included dressing in costume, playing self-composed music, and performing an interpretive dance inspired by the work of art. During the final tour, which represents three years of learning, the students share their work with family, peers, teachers, and Museum staff, and officially become Junior Docents.

Creative responses come in many forms

This year, however, MAM and the students participating in the JDSP were given the special opportunity to share their experience with a much broader audience. Beginning in August, Museum educators worked with Milwaukee PBS and ALBA School in Milwaukee to tell the story of the Junior Docent School Program as it began its 43rd year. Film crews captured the first “oohs” and “aahs” as third grade students entered our wing-topped building for the first time, and they followed a group of fifth graders on their journey to becoming Junior Docents.

5th grade JDSP students on the American Stories tour accompanied by PBS film crew.

Producer Tiffany Pua and the film crew of PBS’s The Arts Page captured hours of footage in the Museum and at school, and interviewed Museum staff, docents, teachers, and alum of JDSP. The results of this collaboration are neatly packaged into a 26-minute television special, which first aired on September 26, 2019. Before their big television debut, ALBA students were invited back to the Museum for an exclusive sneak peek of the program, complete with red carpet photo ops and plenty of refreshments. Students shared in the excitement, as they saw their friends—and themselves—appear on the big screen inside Lubar Auditorium. It was a heartwarming end to another great year of the Junior Docent School Program. 

ALBA School JDSP students pose on the red carpet before the premiere of the Arts Page television program.

Missed out on seeing our Junior Docents on The Arts Page? You can still watch the full episode online.

For more information on the Junior Docent School Program, visit teachers.mam.org or email teachers@mam.org.

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Art Behind the Scenes Education

Community Partner Project: Penfield Montessori Academy

Throughout the month of January, families who visited the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio made art for other kids to enjoy by contributing to a community mural that is displayed at Penfield Montessori Academy.

pma-verticalPenfield Montessori Academy employs a child-centered exploratory approach to learning, while also allowing children with special needs to grow in the classroom amongst their peers. They work in collaboration with Penfield Children’s Center, a fellow Kohl’s Hometown Partner, extending the opportunities that families can receive into their child’s schooling, as well as providing after-school care. Penfield Children’s Center creates a positive start in life for infants and children, many of whom have developmental delays or disabilities, by providing early education, health services, equipment, and family programming.

Penfield Montessori Academy opened for their inaugural school year in September 2016, so our Youth and Family Programs team met with their staff to brainstorm about what we could create to help beautify the school. We decided on a community mural, taking inspiration from artwork at the Museum and Penfield Montessori Academy’s mission of growing and learning together.

Being a part of this process was an amazing experience. I have the pleasure of working with a fantastic team of educators who designed this mural as a way to invite kids and their families to contribute to a project that not only provides them with a unique art making experience at the Museum, but benefits the Milwaukee community as well.

When families dropped by the studio, they drew from real flowers and plants, inspired by Nature and Opulence: The Art of Martin Johnson Heade, using a magnifying glass to get a closer look. They also drew from a variety of school supplies: pencils, scissors, glue, and other items that kids might recognize from their classrooms. Drawings were made directly onto transparencies, which were then transferred to the canvas, and painted. (See photos of the entire process in the slideshow below!)

It’s not quite as simple as I’m making it sound. We had a lot of help from our visitors, as well as incredible staff. But when it all came together… wow! Just look at this beauty!

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My favorite part: that sun! [insert heart-eyed emoji here]
We unveiled the mural to the students and staff on February 21st, and boy, were they excited. As a part of the unveiling, Kohl’s Color Wheels, the Museum’s off-site studio program, provided a hands-on art activity to the kids at Penfield. The kids created colorful paintings from real flowers!

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Penfield Montessori Academy and Penfield Children’s Center hold a very special place in my heart with everything they do to serve families in our community. I am constantly amazed by their dedication, and I’m thrilled to call their amazing school home for this mural.

To see more photos from the mural unveiling and the beautiful paintings the kids created, check out the Flickr album.