A Winning Partnership

By Julia Leonardos
December 21, 2016
Index Magazine

A Winning Partnership

Students gather around Joseph Kosuth’s Titled (Art as Idea as Idea), [Society], 20th century. Photostat mounted on board. © 2015 Joseph Kosuth/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

During my time as a student at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), the Harvard Art Museums were undergoing a major renovation and expansion, offering little more than logistical annoyance to my perpetually late, teenaged self. Every day for four years, on my way to and from school, I darted past the noisy compound of bulldozers and scaffolding, navigating the maze of traffic cones that delineated my path.

Flash forward to December 2014, when I first visited the completed, consolidated Harvard Art Museums, and I was overcome with a new emotion: envy. For my younger sister, Maddy Leonardos (CRLS ’16), and for all current and upcoming CRLS students, the museums promised to be a vital part of the high school experience—one that I would have liked. CRLS is, after all, just down the street from the Harvard Art Museums.

Last fall, Maddy began an AP World History course at CRLS. Her teacher, Caroline Berz, was among the first non–studio art teachers to embark upon a three-way partnership between the Harvard Art Museums, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and CRLS (in previous years, only art classes took advantage of this program).

I asked Berz why she sought out the connection with the museums for her history class and how her students benefited.

“In the museums, historical thinking skills happen more quickly, and in a more vibrant way. It’s a perfect place to ask students to look closely—at perspective, point of view, contextualization,” Berz said. “We could sit in the classroom and lecture on the movement of Buddhism throughout Asia, but at the museums, there’s a huge collection of Buddhist art from Japan, China, and Korea. There, we get to ask, ‘What does it mean when Buddhism travels?’ and witness that history.”

Here’s how the program works: graduate education students seeking teaching experience in an arts environment apply to the Harvard Art Museums’ Graduate Student Teacher internship program. The selected graduate student teachers then meet in the museums with an assigned CRLS partner class, up to four times over the course of the semester. While the graduate students develop their teaching skills, CRLS students and their teachers experience valuable instruction intended to supplement and expand their curriculum. Plus, the museums gain new and passionate visitors. It’s a win-win-win scenario.

Correna Cohen, in the museums’ Division of Academic and Public Programs (DAPP), helps coordinate the training for the graduate student teachers partnership program, which is overseen by David Odo, director of student programs. Cohen is the perfect poster child for the partnership: she is a graduate of CRLS and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and is now a curatorial fellow in DAPP.

Both Cohen and Berz believe there are benefits to frequent museum visits that transcend a lesson plan. CRLS and the Harvard Art Museums “are neighbors, and it’s important that we are part of each other’s worlds,” Berz said. “At the museums, we’re breaking the pattern of the school day, and that affects learning in a way that’s good for everybody.”

Cohen agreed. “It’s great, especially for a class like World History, when the content aligns,” she said. “But there’s also real, skills-based learning going on. We want to make the art feel accessible; we want to make this a place where the community, the young, feel welcome. Often, [high school] students come in thinking that they’re going to be dismissive of the experience. When the graduate student takes their statements seriously, the students realize that they do have ideas about the art, and that those ideas are valuable.”

My sister Maddy truly loved her AP World History class, largely thanks to her frequent visits to the museums. “We learned about world history through the lens of art history,” she told me, her eyes all aglow.

Maddy’s classmate William Telingator (CRLS ’17) echoed her enthusiasm. “Even though we were in a history class, going to the museums provided a great opportunity for us to expand our thinking and see the bigger picture,” William wrote me in an email. “It sounds weird to say, but it made everything seem more real.”

Currently, just a handful of CRLS classes visit the museums regularly with graduate student teachers, but the partnership enables one-time visits by other CRLS classes as well. Last year, eight classes in various disciplines—from art to creative writing to history—made the trip.

Despite my playful envy of what my sister and other CRLS students can gain from this program, I am thrilled to see just how successfully the lines between the classroom and the museum are being blurred. The three-way partnership between the museums, the Graduate School of Education, and CRLS shows that real learning, no matter the curriculum, can be a joint effort—inside the classroom and inside the museum.

An aspiring arts professional, Julia Leonardos was a summer writing and editing intern in the Communications Division at the Harvard Art Museums.