During the last period of the day at Dover-Sherborn Middle School, students in grades six through eight are fortunate to have several options on how to use their time. Their choices include an open music studio, the library, a coding lab, and the drop-in art studio. The open studio program started as a pilot six years ago in response to a district-wide shift to prioritize students’ social and emotional well-being. Although the program started as pilot, it has since become a staple in the culture of the school and a highlight for many students.
Left: Rain C., grade eight, paints in a choice-based center. Right: Liam L. and Nicholas P., grade six, throw clay on a wheel.
The bell rings and students excitedly pour into crowded hallways. They enthusiastically make their way to their last period class before proceeding to their after-school activities. Standing in the art studio doorway, I greet students as they rush by me to get to their work station of choice. The studio fills up and students settle into their space. The stress of the busy day shifts to creative energy as they begin to explore.
Open Art Studio
During the last period of the day at Dover-Sherborn Middle School, students in grades six through eight are fortunate to have several options on how to use their time. Their choices include an open music studio, the library, a coding lab, and the drop-in art studio. The open studio program started as a pilot six years ago in response to a district-wide shift to prioritize students’ social and emotional well-being.
Many students were identified as having stressors that negatively impacted their lives. Teachers and administrators were challenged to respond to this issue. They observed the positive impact that subjects like art and music had on students. This led them to try out a new schedule that gave students more flexibility and choice on how to use their last period learning block. Although the program started as a pilot, it has since become a staple in the culture of the school and a highlight for many students. They enjoy the variety of choice while working with peers in an informal classroom setting.
During the last period each day, the art studio is set up with choice-based centers. Here, students can select from a variety of media, including drawing, painting, ceramics, printmaking, and sculpture. There is a limit of thirty students in the space. Students must sign in upon arrival and clean up their workspace before leaving, and they have to pick up artwork made in the open studio by the end of each grading period.
The benefits of the program are numerous. Students get the chance to work together in a social environment where they interact with others from different grades and abilities. They are able to explore materials and subject matter they may have not encountered in a formal art classroom setting, where time and curriculum often drive learning.
Students can interact with peers who have similar interests to their own in a noncompetitive setting with no formal assessment required. They can practice their skills and learn from one another. For example, students have a limited amount of class time to practice on the potter’s wheel, but during open studio, they have the time to refine their skills.
One of the most important aspects of implementing an open studio program is gaining support from administrators and the school community at large. The administration of the Dover-Sherborn schools stands behind the program and makes social-emotional learning a top priority.
Former superintendent of schools Dr. Andrew Keough notes that “some of the most important things that happen during a child’s development happen during a place like art open studio where students can pursue the things that fascinate them.” He advises other districts contemplating a program such as this to “not be afraid; the learning that goes on in these settings is often more meaningful than some of the most rigorous academic experiences that kids will ever have.”
Play and process-based art abound in the summer issue! Art teachers share lessons in which students can take risks and experiment with materials in a stress-free environment. Students create artful sound sticks to express emotions, assemble 3D hats inspired by art careers, collaborate or work solo to engineer mixed-media parade floats, draw colorful portraits with exaggerated expressions, and more.