IB program sparks Eisenhower renaissance

Teachers use grant to visit Italy, research works of famous Renaissance artists to share with school’s IB students

Greg Densmore
The North Edition Leader

Thanks to a recent Fund for Teachers grant, Eisenhower High School teachers Mari Glamser and Michael Ann Kelley were able to bring their passion for teaching and learning to Europe in a move designed to take the school’s Renaissance Experience Installation program to a higher level.

Glamser and Kelley were among 107 teachers from 67 schools to receive individual Fund for Teachers grants to travel and learn this summer. The Eisenhower duo visited Italy and researched the works of famous Renaissance artists to share with their students.

A large majority of their students come from low socio-economic backgrounds, and most are considered at-risk of not earning their high school diplomas. Given the circumstances, Glamser and Kelley have devoted themselves to helping their students develop a “love of the game,” rather than simply spending their class time “teaching to the test.” To that end, the two joined forces to create the Renaissance Experience Installation, an offshoot of Eisenhower’s fledgling International Baccalaureate program.

Both Glamser, who teaches social studies, and Kelley, who teaches art, are IB instructors at Eisenhower. The IB Diploma Program is comprised of a challenging two-year curriculum in which students learn more than a collection of facts. Instead, students are encouraged to “learn how to learn” by asking challenging questions and developing the ability to communicate and understand people from other countries and cultures.

“In visual arts, we wanted our students to do more than just simple copy work,” said Kelley. “We wanted to push them a little further and put the work of Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini into their hands, and thus provide them with a global connection to what art really means.”

That “global connection” involved the Eisenhower teachers taking their two-week excursion to Italy in early June. They spent six days in Florence, researching the three David sculptures created by Michelangelo, Donatello and Verrochio. From there, they traveled to Milan to study Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” and then spent six days in Rome researching Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistene Chapel, Raphael’s “The School of Athens,” Bernini’s “David” and Michelangelo’s “Pieta” and “Moses” sculptures.

“These were all foundation pieces our kids should know,” said Kelley.

The study of these pieces will serve as the foundation for the duo’s Renaissance Experience Installation program, according to Glamser. As part of the cross-cultural program, Eisenhower has allocated a room that teachers and students will transform into a Renaissance Gallery to analyze and create works of art, and foster the passion for learning.

“The kids will also do their own research and give tours during an exhibition,” said Glamser.

The two teachers also collected work by modern artists such as Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol that were inspired by – and played homage to – the work of Michelangelo and Botticelli, respectively.

“We hope this will show them how great artists are inspired by other great artists,” said Kelley. “We don’t want them to just copy someone’s work.”

Their trip to Italy was a boost; both intellectually and spiritually, said Kelley.

“It was a wonderful way to mold my career and the artwork,” she said. “And spiritually, it was me going back to the motherland.”

During their travels, the pair visited the well-known haunts such as the Cathedral of Milan, the Spanish Steps, St. Peter in Chains, the Vatican Museum and the Trevi Fountain. But it was side trips to small churches and other sites that really impressed them.

“We visited every little church we saw,” said Kelley. “And you could practically find one on every corner. We were surprised to find out how many relics they held, relics that are not publicized.”

The Eisenhower duo stayed in rented apartments, rather than hotels, and thus “hung out with Italians” instead of other tourists, said Glamser.

“We got to call our own shots, pick our own agenda and choose our own guides,” she said. “That’s why we love the Fund for Teachers grants. Your ideas are honored so much. You write up your dream and then – there it is.”

Other Leader-area educators awarded Fund for Teachers grants included:

  • Brenda Parish, Carmichael Elementary, Aldine ISD; grant to explore the art of African storytelling to discover the impact it has on the students’ overall academic and personal success.
  • Amber Aubrey and Constance Fontenot, Bethune Academy, Aldine ISD; grant to glean evidence of culture, and study characteristics of Chinese gardens and performances to assist in the education of students, staff, and community.
  • Bradley Quentin, Stevenson Elementary, Houston ISD; grant to study the geology, flora, and fauna of New Zealand’s diverse ecosystems and create multimedia instructional units based on our travels.
  • Stephanie Witherspoon, Hamilton Middle School, Houston ISD; grant to attend the Global Conference on Educational Robotics in Oklahoma followed by two courses on robotics at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center.
  • David Church, Oak Forest Elementary, and Angela Apte, Travis Elementary, Houston ISD; grant to collect primary source materials from the peace and equality movements fostered by Gandhi and Mandela in South Africa, and influential M. L. King.
  • Neda Khan, Black Middle School, Houston ISD; grant to travel to Italy and Greece to explore classical art forms of the ancient Roman and Greek empires, while studying contemporary European art.