A Teacher Becomes Part of the Family

Getting to know the animals at Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, including this adolescent mountain gorilla. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

Getting to know the animals at Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, including this adolescent mountain gorilla. Photo courtesy of Kristin Welch Zurek, pictured here.

I lived in Los Angeles for fourteen years before I discovered the Skirball Cultural Center. I don’t know what took me so long, but I’m so happy I finally found my way to this gem of a museum.

As an LAUSD kindergarten teacher, I am always searching for ways to integrate more art into my curriculum. Last summer I saw a listing for the teacher professional development program Teaching Through Storytelling at the Skirball and took a gamble. It has paid off in ways I never could’ve predicted.

The day began with a story, told by one of the Skirball educators, that illustrated many of the theatrical, musical, and physical techniques we would learn over the course of the next three days. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

Storytime at the Skirball. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

When I arrived at the Skirball last July, I felt like a new student as I waited on the amphitheater steps for the workshop to begin. The day began with a story, told by one of the Skirball educators, that illustrated many of the theatrical, musical, and physical techniques we would learn over the course of the next three days. How could I predict that I would find Noah’s Ark to be so exquisite, or that I would be thoroughly enchanted by the storytellers who work there? Wow. How could I predict how helpful this professional development program would be? In my eighteen years of teaching, this is in the top three learning experiences this student has had.

By lunch, I felt like a very welcome houseguest. I ate quickly so that I could visit the exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. I went back to the exhibition three more times during my three-day visit, and each time I read more about Gary’s life and discovered new details in the art and objects on display.

Gary’s dining table in last summer's exhibition, Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

Gary’s dining table in last summer’s exhibition, Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

By the end of the first day I felt like family. I was immediately welcomed into this community, like a newfound relative you meet and bond with effortlessly. We were given passes to come back to Noah’s Ark with our real family, and I couldn’t wait to share this experience with my kids.

Over the course of the three-day workshop we explored many different modes of storytelling that used music, movement, and visual and performing arts. Professional teaching artists and Skirball educators led us through activities designed to illustrate how these storytelling techniques could be brought into our teaching. We worked alone and in groups—improvising, acting out stories such as Leo Lionni’s Swimmy, creating seascapes with our bodies, playing music, and developing lesson ideas. This professional development has made me feel more like a storyteller; I use what I learned in my own classroom on a regular basis. You too can be a part of this special program by registering today for the June 24–26 Teaching Through Storytelling program.

Here I am being kelp on a “good day for a fish,” feeding other fish and swaying in the ocean. Note: this is before a shark comes near and we act out a “bad day for a fish.” Photo by Peter Turman.

Here I am being kelp on a “good day for a fish,” feeding other fish and swaying in the ocean. Note: this is before a shark comes near and we act out a “bad day for a fish.” Photo by Peter Turman.

The Teaching Through Storytelling program offered a great way to continue my relationship with the Skirball—I was able to pre-register for Skirball school tours. Lucky me! In the fall, I took my class to visit Noah’s Ark for a special Build a Better World tour focusing on “taking care of our earth.” We did activities at school leading up to our trip and talked about how we can make our world a better place. In Noah’s Ark, we explored different areas of the exhibition, we talked and told stories, and the kids planted seeds in paper pots that we took back to our school.

Students planting seeds in newspaper pots with the help of Gallery Educators Jack Reed and Jackie Rivera on their Noah’s Ark school tour. Photo by Jason Porter.

Students planting seeds in newspaper pots with the help of Gallery Educators Jack Reed and Jackie Rivera on their Noah’s Ark school tour. Photo by Jason Porter.

When we returned to our school we replanted our seeds in a shoe rack—a nod to the repurposing of everyday objects in Noah’s Ark—provided by the Skirball. We weren’t sure if our little seeds would sprout, but they did! Later we moved our sprouts—herbs and lettuces—into our school garden, and we plan to make a salad and eventually cook together. The whole exercise really helped my students understand how helpful green space can be. They say, “We can grow food” and “Plants make our air cleaner.”

In one of the stories I heard at Noah’s Ark a little muskrat taught me, “If you believe in yourself, and have enough determination and enough love, everything is possible.” My students and I have taken this idea to heart, and we’ve had an amazing school year. Now, I feel gratitude.

We replanted our sprouts in the school garden at Coeur d’Alene Elementary in Venice. Photo by Jack Reed.

We replanted our sprouts in the school garden at Coeur d’Alene Elementary in Venice. Photo by Jack Reed.

 

Kristin Welch Zurek is a Transitional Kindergarten teacher at Coeur d’Alene Elementary in Venice. She is also a Cotsen Fellow with the Cotsen Foundation’s Art of Teaching program, and she’s concentrating on arts integration with a fabulous mentor for the next two years. When she’s not at school she enjoys making collages and hanging out with her fifteen-, ten-, and seven-year old children.

 

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