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Ole Miss students collaborate with Oxford Elementary in service learning

Oksana Demchenko

University of Mississippi art students got the chance to bring their experiences to the Oxford community during Wintersession.
During the class, Art 398, known as service learning in arts, students paired with Oxford Elementary School students to create “Walls that Teach” in the school cafeteria.
Art sophomore Abigail Rapp, one of the participants of the Wintersession art class, said the project was a great experience for her.
“It was very entertaining to have conversations with the kids, as they were extremely bright,” she said. “They have such an honest view on the world. Being able to work with them through art was fun because they got to step away from their studies and expressed themselves through their imagination.”
The goal of the project was to create a functioning learning piece with creative elements.
“The atmosphere of the cafeteria was very bland,” Oxford Elementary School Principal LaTonya Robinson said.
Assistant art professor Lou Haney and OES teacher Theresa Bates brought their students together with the goals of transforming the cafeteria into a place of learning.
“This class was designed to connect college students with the community,” Haney said. “Oxford Elementary is a public school, so we decided to make their world look better and to teach them about science in a visually compelling way.”
Haney and Bates said they wanted to do a community service project together for a long time, and it finally came together in November.
“Lou Haney is my former drawing teacher,” Bates said. “We decided that our school community could benefit from a more beautiful cafeteria. We brainstormed about what form the project would take and came up with the idea of painting murals.”
Once the class started, the second graders brainstormed and chose math and science to grace the walls.
Now students who visit the cafeteria can learn more about the life cycle, plant cycle and water cycle as they eat their apples, salads and sandwiches.
“Not only did the paintings liven up our cafeteri, they add great appeal and excellent opportunity for discussion,” Robinson said.
Journalism senior Anna Davis said helping students paint murals was a great way to spend her Wintersession.
“I feel like this class was more of a life experience,” she said.
“The time I spent with the students was such a wonderful way for me to watch the impact that art can have on the community.”
While working on the project, art students came up with ideas and painted parts of murals, using supplies donated by the Ole Miss Art Department and Oxford Paint Supply.
The working group involved more than 100 students in total, which added to the collaboration history Ole Miss and OES already have.
“There were other projects like ‘Reading with Rebels,’ where student athletes come out and read to classes,” Robinson said.
“Also we had ‘International Passport Day,’ where Ole Miss international students came out and discussed their respective countries with our student body.”