Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Teacher teaches art to visually impaired student

Fifth-grader Sarah Metz carefully molded clay into the shape of leaves Friday during her art class at Nichols Elementary. She first shaped the pieces, and then used her fingernail to give them texture. After choosing a shade of green, Metz painted her leaves.

Sarah Metz, 11, has been blind since birth. With her long, blond hair, petite body and bubbling personality, Metz once formed a challenge for art teacher Marisa Main. Main had only been a full-time teacher in the county for two years, and she had no prior experience with teaching art to a blind student.

"The most important thing wasn't just figuring out a way to teach Sarah art. It was coming up with a way of maintaining the integrity of the curriculum," Main said.

Two years later, the relationship Main has with Metz has motivated the art teacher to go beyond what her job requires. She keeps her art projects binded together and began writing about how Metz has changed her classroom -- and her teaching abilities.

"Sarah is such an intelligent, creative student," said Main, also a adjunct professor at Marshall University. "She has been the highlight of my teaching for the past two years. She certainly makes it more interesting, and working with her makes me a better teacher."

In April, Main was published in SchoolArts Magazine, a national publication with about 20,000 in circulation. Her article highlighted ways of teaching art to visually impaired students through the means of touch.

Her second article, published in the May edition, teaches readers an activity to allow other students to see what it feels like working on an art project without sight. With the permission of classroom parents, Main did this in her own classroom and documented its results.

Main has since contracted to publish two more articles and has a verbal contract for a fifth.

Metz feels her way to her own creations. Among them are sculptures and paintings. Main says it is important to find a way to adapt each class project for Metz to gain accessibility to learning from it.
Main contributes her success with Metz to a large cooperation between Nichols Elementary Principal Barbara Carlton, representatives from the central office and Patti Paugh, Metz's visually impaired aide who helps during art class.

"If I am painting the right colors, I think of a sunrise. That makes me think of beauty," said Metz, whose favorite color is purple. "Or makes me think of the morning air smell. You know, the moisture in the morning air. It's my favorite."


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