University's art students teach at Livingston school

10/20/2013 7:30 PM

10/20/2013 7:31 PM

Scores of youngsters at Selma Herndon Elementary got art lessons from UC Merced students last week, the first such visit to the campus.

“It’s a great opportunity to get them thinking outside the box, and imagining (and) being more creative,” said Lucy Plascencia, a first-grade teacher.

Five members of an art club at UC Merced interacted with the first- and fourth-graders as they painted Dia de los Muertos skulls, which will be hung in the school cafeteria. The day was also “College Day,” when the children are encouraged to wear items with college logos.

“It’s a great opportunity to talk them about going to college,” Plascencia said, adding that some of her pupils dressed up in anticipation of the day.

Before the university students arrived, the first-graders studied the history of the day, which is traditionally observed in Mexico and set aside to remember dead family and friends.

Art club president Jordan Kitagawa, a 21-year-old UC Merced student from Southern California, said it’s important to members to involve the youngsters in art. She said the fourth-graders received a few lessons on proportion before slapping paint on the oversized skulls.

“I know a lot of people underestimate art,” she said. “It’s important and it’s a process just like science.”

UC Merced art professor Richard Gomez, an art club adviser, said his students wanted to reach out to youngsters beyond Merced, who might have fewer chances to learn from college students.

Fourth-grade teacher Alex Alvarez, who teaches a dual-language immersion class, said the few days of learning about the cultural holiday nicely fulfilled some requirements the youngsters need to meet if they’re to get a “seal of bi-literacy” on their eighth-grade diplomas.

Nearly a third of the Livingston Unified School District’s students participate in dual-language immersion classes from kindergarten through the eighth grade, according to the district’s website.

The Selma Herndon fourth-graders’ lesson connected the ways Europeans, the indigenous people of Mexico and the Catholic church celebrate the dead around Halloween, with Dia de los Muertos and All Souls Day, respectively.

Alvarez said he hadn’t been in involved in an art project so large in his dozen years as a teacher. California’s recent move to Common Core standards, which school districts must implement in the 2014-15 school year, has made room for that type of lesson, he said.

“The state of California wants them not to just listen to it, but get exposed to it,” he said. “It will help, whether they are hands-on, listeners or visual (learners).”

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