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Lake Hamilton educators selected to join 'Declaration of Learning'

by Elisha Morrison | December 5, 2016 at 4:00 a.m.

PEARCY -- Two educators at Lake Hamilton Junior High are part of the second year of a first-of-its-kind program in the country designed to integrate art into other disciplines and teach students the importance of civic engagement.

Library media specialist Jil'Lana Heard and Rachael Walston, content literacy facilitator for grades 4-12, are the first educators to be accepted as joint applicants into the U.S. Department of State's "Arkansas Declaration of Learning" program. Arkansas is the first state to participate.

The Arkansas Department of Education, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and other national organizations recently recognized the 26 educators who participated in the first year of the program. Lakeside High School library media specialist Stony Evans was a member of the first class.

A total of 28 educators were selected for the second class in Arkansas. Heard said organizers were enthusiastic about the learning opportunities offered by she and Walston working together in the program.

"With my position and her position, that's why it was a great partnership because neither one of us is kind of tied to a classroom," Heard said. "So we could work with everybody."

The Department of State and participating organizations signed the Declaration of Learning in 2013 pledging to work with state and local partners to co-create learning tools for educators and students in middle and secondary education using historical art and objects from their respective collections. The Diplomatic Reception Rooms consist of 42 rooms on the top two floors of the Department of State.

Participants develop lessons and educational materials using available pieces of art. Their work is available to other participants and will be made available to more teachers in the future.

The national initiative was spearheaded by Arkansas native Anne Menotti, senior adviser for education and outreach in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms office. She is a graduate of Bergman High School, an alum of Hendrix College and her mother was a teacher.

Applications for the second class were due in March. Heard, Walston and their fellow participants learned in May they were accepted. They attended a three-day institute in July at Crystal Bridges led by Menotti.

The educators received instruction on teaching with works of art, historical objects and primary documents. A goal of the institute was to allow teachers to return to their schools with resources and an understanding of how the objects could be integrated into a curriculum.

Educators were able to pick one piece from each of the Butler Center, Crystal Bridges and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms to develop their own lessons. They were required to complete and submit their plans before the school year began.

Many participants develop limited activities or lesson plans for several days. Heard and Walston researched other pieces of art to supplement their selected pieces, developed three full units and are working on a fourth. Each lesson is supplemented with multiple pieces of art meant to encourage students to think critically about history.

They chose to partner with Seth Reeves in the fall semester to co-teach the units in his eighth-grade U.S. History classes. Reeves said many of their lessons have covered the standards he is required to teach.

An emphasis in the Declaration of Learning is civic engagement. Heard and Walston's first unit focused on inequalities in American history.

"We are supposed to use three pieces from these three places, but the ultimate goal is to get kids involved in their communities," Walston said. "Our civic engagement piece is to address the inequality in our own community."

"The whole purpose is how can we learn and how can we make this world a better place?" Heard said. "With them identifying inequalities throughout history, then we look at what can we do from this point forward instead of continuing down this path of inequality? What can we do to level the playing field?"

Students will team up to read materials to others. Heard and Walston said they want students to determine other ways they can take action both in and outside of Lake Hamilton.

They plan to take students to the Butler Center and the Clinton Center next semester for students to learn first hand how other Americans have made an impact. They will partner with Mandy Hopkins to co-teach units in her Civics classes.

Heard and Walston said they have received constant support from Menotti and Zev Slurzberg, assistant manager for K-12 partnership programs at Crystal Bridges.

"They have been wonderful," Walston said. "They have even been connecting us with resources, like the George Washington Institute. Jil and I did not know you could go and actually study at Mount Vernon."

Menotti and Slurzberg provided letters of recommendation when Heard and Walston applied to attend a learning program on the grounds of Mount Vernon in Virginia. They learned this week they were accepted into the learning program.

The pair will stay at Mount Vernon for four days in the spring semester. They plan to attend multiple sessions about topics they can connect with their units for the Declaration of Learning.

"It's a very enriching experience for both of us, because our resource group has grown," Heard said. "We have made so many connections and been able to grow outside of just what we could normally do. And the things we are able to do, it impacts so many more kids, which is of course what we are all about."

Heard, certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, said the Declaration of Learning program has provided the most rewarding professional development of her career. She and Walston commended the support they have received from the district's administration, as well as the teachers.

"If Lake Hamilton did not believe in furthering our professional development, there's no way it would be possible for us to do this for our kids," Heard said.

Walston said Kristi Anderson, director of instructional services and federal programs, has been supportive and enthusiastic about their participation in Declaration of Learning, as well as their plans for Mount Vernon.

"Kristi is all about learning and sharing learning," Walston said. "She is so focused on making things better for our kids."

The Diplomatic Reception Rooms consist of 42 rooms on the top two floors of the Department of State and consist of more than 5,000 fine and decorative art objects from 1730-1840. The rooms are modeled after 18th century architecture and spaces in U.S. history. They serve as the site for many diplomatic meetings and events.

Nevada was recently announced as the second state to participate. Events will be held again next fall to recognize the second class of Arkansas educators in the program.

Local on 12/05/2016

Print Headline: Lake Hamilton educators selected to join 'Declaration of Learning'

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