Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Art Is the Glue in a NYC Inclusion Program: With a Grant from the National Inclusion Project, the Marquis Studios Inclusion Program Was Launched in 2011

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Art Is the Glue in a NYC Inclusion Program: With a Grant from the National Inclusion Project, the Marquis Studios Inclusion Program Was Launched in 2011

Article excerpt

As the six year olds filled the sunny art studio, they chanted the teacher's name, "Hiromi! Hiromi!" With her frizzy pigtails, crinkly-eyed smile, and blocky gray tunic, Hiromi Niizeki looked like a big first-grader herself.

This was Ms. Niizeki's second season teaching visual art in the Inclusion Program, a project designed by Marquis Studios. Marquis Studios is a 39-year-old non-profit that provides arts-in-education services to more than 100 New York City public schools. It is the New York Affiliate of VSA, an international organization that promotes arts by, and for, people with disabilities.

Marquis Studios' founder, David Marquis, has worked in the New York City public schools for nearly 40 years. Sometime ago, he wondered why kids on the autism spectrum were kept separate from the general ed population even when they shared the same building. (The only connection was the @ sign between their names, such as, PS94 @ PS281 and PS94 @ PS188.)

In New York City, children who cannot be served in integrated team-taught classes, or in smaller, self-contained rooms are placed in one of the District 75 programs--there are over 80 of these--which are embedded in neighborhood public schools but clustered in their own area of the building. Mr. Marquis noticed something like an invisible crime scene tape barring one population from the other. The teachers and children from the two schools did not know each other's names, even though they walked down the same halls.

Marquis thought, "Why not bring them together through art?" With a grant from the National Inclusion Project, he did just that, launching the Marquis Studios Inclusion Program in 2011.

TEN SESSIONS

Marquis Studios offers 10 sessions at a reduced price to schools that want to be involved.

Last spring, master teaching artist Niizeki worked with a blend of first-grade students from a District 75 school (PS 94)--autism spectrum; and the River School (PS 281)--regular education. Both are located in a modern building on the East River. Her task for all the children was for them to make a mask.

"You will each get your own paper bag," she said to the more than 30 children gathered on the rug. Inclusion groups are larger because two classrooms are combined. The River School's art teacher was there to assist, as were classroom teachers and assistants.

Hiromi spoke sparingly, partly because English is her second language, but also because an economy of words is very effective with six year olds.

"You will open your bag and put it over your head," she said, following her own directions. The kids giggled. She looked comical in her wide-leg pants and black shoes with a bag on her head. Then she removed the bag and turned serious.

"It is not safe," she said. "What do we need to be safe?"

"Eyeholes!" said the children.

She called on a volunteer and this time when she put the bag on her head she pointed to the general area of her eye

Her voice was muffled: "Jamaine, could you mark here for me?" The boy scribbled a circle on the bag.

"We use markers, not pencil," Hiromi reminded the group, "because pencils can poke through paper."

After her concise demonstration, all the students found their table spots and worked in pairs to execute her instructions.

ROUTINES & COLLABORATION

Routine, Niizeki explained, is the glue that brings the children together and helps them all feel safe. …

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