Teacher Uses Graffiti to Engage 4th Graders in Civic Responsibility - Generocity Philly

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Apr. 15, 2015 12:30 pm

Teacher Uses Graffiti to Engage 4th Graders in Civic Responsibility

The project asks students to make up their own minds about graffiti.

After four years of teaching the same old curriculum to her fourth grade class at Independence Charter School, Meagan Ingerson wanted to try something new.

“I always really liked different programs that made curricular connections,” such as teaching math through lessons on citizenship, Ingerson said.

After taking summer training courses with Need in Deed, a local nonprofit that prepares students for their futures as responsible citizens, Ingerson brought her new found approach to education into the classroom. She began executing the Need in Deed method in her own classroom by focusing on one particular topic, graffiti, and threading it through every subject she teaches. Ingerson and her class began studying it this past January.

“We looked at the history of graffiti, especially the history in Philadelphia because Philadelphia was the birthplace of modern graffiti,” she said.

Need in Deed helped Ingerson get prominent speakers into the classroom. Guests have included Streets Dept blogger and photographer Conrad Benner, as well as Thomas Conway, director of the city’s Anti-Graffiti Network, who spoke to the kids about the cost of graffiti.

“We learned the city spends $1.2 million in that department to clean up graffiti,” Ingerson said. “It’s free for citizens to call and have it removed, but it does cost the city money.”

The Mural Arts Program came into Ingerson’s class to demonstrate how they make murals and how the community gets involved with them.

“They also brought a piece of a mural they’re working on in so the kids could see it,” Ingerson said. “Hopefully when it’s time for it to go up, [the kids] can see that, too.”

Ingerson’s students have also had the chance to venture outside the classroom and see graffiti first hand: Ingerson brought in a former graffiti artist, who took the students around Center City to exhibit certain pieces of graffiti. He talked about how graffiti artists operate, explained hidden meanings behind the graffiti, and talked about different artists’ techniques.

Ingerson also incorporated graffiti into her lesson plans surrounding literacy — prompting students to explore main ideas, dig into details, summarizing what they’ve read, and forming an opinion on information they read about graffiti.

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“It was more high-interest reading materials for the kids than your typical fourth grade non-fiction stuff,” she said.

Although the Graffiti Project wasn’t the students favorite at the start in January, it has started to grow on them, according to Ingerson.

“They’ve become more and more interested and they’ve noticed it a lot more in their own communities,” she said, adding that some of the students have become more aware of how graffiti affects the city, but they’ve also come to appreciate it as an art.

“We ended up having a debate where I assigned them a pro or con side,” Ingerson said. “Watching them struggle to form an opinion on something they might not necessarily be in agreement with is very interesting.”

The overall goal is to let the students explore graffiti as an issue and come to their own conclusions about it.

“I think it’s important to let them have both sides because it teaches them a ton of critical thinking skills, how to support an opinion, how to sort through what they buy into and what they don’t,” Ingerson said.

At the end of the year, Ingerson’s students will get involved with a service project that addresses graffiti in some way. As of now, that project hasn’t been determined yet, but the students will continue to engage with the topic until then.

“They’re going to be citizens of our city,” Ingerson said. “It’s their responsibility to form an opinion on something, rather than [adopt] what my opinion is.”

Image via Meagan Ingerson

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