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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti fifth graders and UM art students share their love of art with each other


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsi fifth graders work with U-M students to develop art projects on mental health, gender, and more

Ypsilanti International Elementary School (YIES)

University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design

International Baccalaureate Organization

IB Units of Inquiry - General Information


Rylee Barnsdale: You're listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. From drawing from real life to abstract collage, students at Ypsilanti International Elementary School are frequently encouraged to explore their artistic side in unique ways. And, recently, fifth grade students have had some additional instruction and motivation from other students--these ones from college. YIES has been partnering with the University of Michigan's Stamps School of Art and Design since 2022, having fifth graders meet once a week with University of Michigan students and create collaborative pieces and mentor these young students, fostering a deep appreciation for both making art and the arts as a whole. Today, I'm joined by Ypsilanti International Elementary School teacher Melanie Eccles, whose fifth-grade class has been working closely with these students from Stamps each week, making projects and learning more about the artistic process. Hi, Melanie! Thanks so much for being here!

Melanie Eccles: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

Rylee Barnsdale: So, Melanie, walk me through this partnership with the University of Michigan. You know, where did this idea come from to partner with Stamps specifically? And what was YIES hoping to get out of this collaboration?

U-M Stamps School professor Melanie Manos.
Courtesy Photo
Melanie Manos
U-M Stamps School professor Melanie Manos.

Melanie Eccles: So, Melanie Manos is the director of the Stamps program and this school collaboration over at U of M, and she reached out to us a couple of years ago and said if we would be interested in partnering with them to create this community collaboration between the university students and our local elementary school students. And that's one of the things I love about working at YIES and at our public school system, because we have these great universities right here in our hometown. And so, we've been working together for two years now and collaborating on our units of inquiry and how can those partner with our collaborative expressions of art.

Rylee Barnsdale: So, like you mentioned, the program is around two years old at this point. Can you talk a little bit about how things have kind of evolved since the partnership got started, or how things have changed, if they've changed at all?

Melanie Eccles: Yes. When we first started, we were still coming out of the pandemic. And so, there were a lot of meetings happening online trying to connect the local fifth grade students with these university students. And it was a little bit difficult to make that really engaging for both ends of the education extreme there. As we progress, we really developed a great partnership with Miss Manos over at Stamps and Miss Patton, Miss Neil and myself here at YIES work really closely with Miss Manos to create a curriculum that is really engaging and fun for both sets of students. We've been creating artwork based on our units of inquiry. So, like this past year, as an International Baccalaureate school, we have six different units of inquiry that we explore on a rotating basis each school year. And so, for our unit on where we are in place in time, it was really an indigenous people study. And so, students explored some different weaving, some different fabric arts. And then, they did some--I'm not sure what they would call it--full body yarn expression, where they would twist and form yarn into different shapes and then someone would sketch it or draw it and trying to get that 3D positive and negative space on the paper. That's something they did for the Indigenous Peoples study. And then, last year, we did a study on Black history during our "How We Organize Ourselves" unit, and the students worked together to put together fabric quilts, where each student created a quilt square that was about 12 by 12 with the help of their university students, where they put in features on different Black Americans who are well-known, or their own expression of what it means to be a person of color, or what they love about living in Ypsi and the diversity here.

Rylee Barnsdale: And you mentioned the fifth grade students and the college students. Those students from Stamps are doing these collaborative pieces. But what are some of the topics and skills that you've seen these Stamps students kind of go over with the elementary schoolers?

Melanie Eccles: We have varied projects from anything. From the first day they meet together, they work on just something as simple as name tags and some sort of identifying badge, where they can show their creativity and some sort of label for themselves, so they can get to know each other. And then, this semester, they've moved into a lot of painting, so they've worked with watercolors and even some acrylics, which has been fun to clean up in my classroom, but a really good opportunity for the students. And they've loved it. I have a number of really advanced art students in my fifth-grade class who have really benefited from this. They've also done clay modeling. They've done kind of recycled artwork pieces out of cardboard boxes, string, different textiles, like I mentioned. They've done some weaving out of paper and out of fabric both.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, chatting with Ypsilanti International Elementary School fifth grade teacher Melanie Eccles. So, Melanie, you mentioned how you have had a very positive experience with these students. I'm sure all of them have, but are there any stories you can share about how students are receiving the program? I'm sure they're very open with you about the things that they're learning and the things that they're making as well.

Melanie Eccles: Yes, my students in particular have really looked forward to this every week when we get a new set of students each semester, and we've gotten to get to know two groups of students this year, and they really work in small groups--so, maybe five elementary students and three college students across the three classrooms. And they form really important mentoring relationships where I overhear them talking about everyday life and interests, books, media. And I think it's really empowering for the fifth graders to feel like there's another adult who is in that kind of Gen X age group that understands what they like and what they enjoy in the world and is empowering them to express themselves in a creative way. And we are planning a field trip to go to the University School of Art and Design in April, and we're really looking forward to getting to see their workspace and all the different creative arts that are part of the U of M Stamps program.

Rylee Barnsdale: And you mentioned how this program has been a mentorship kind of opportunity for the Stamps students. How are you, in the classroom, a resource for the college students as well?

Melanie Eccles: That's been really fun to just encourage them and to both step in when necessary. If I notice that when they first come in, they might be kind of tentative, and neither one of us know who is exactly in charge. So, I'll tend to start the first meeting or two when they get here. I'll introduce the students and then say, "Okay, you guys can take over and let my students know what the plan is for today." And at that point, I can see them really step into their leadership opportunities. And some of the U of M students have a lot of experience with youth, whether being camp leaders or maybe they're elementary ed majors. And for many of them, this is their first experience with younger students. So, there's some tentativeness, but it seems that even the most quiet U of M students find one of our YIES elementary school students to connect with and really form similar relationships and some sort of bond where there's mutual respect. And it's fun to watch that grow. I just kind of float around the room a bit and observe what I'm seeing. I like to take pictures and send them home to parents to let them know what their students are creating and what an opportunity to work with these university students. And then, I also get to step in if there's any sort of situation where one of my students might be disengaged or struggling in some way, socially or emotionally, and help talk through that with the college students to figure out what base or what intervention might be needed for my students.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm talking with Melanie Eccles, a fifth grade teacher at Ypsilanti International Elementary School. Melanie, one aspect of the program, to my understanding, is an arts exhibition that the YIES students get to take part of. They get to display their art, as well as the collaborative pieces that they've made with their Stamps mentors. What has that experience of seeing everything kind of come together in an exhibition been like for you and the students?

Melanie Eccles: I'm really looking forward to it. This is the first year that we've really integrated our art mentorship with the fifth grade exhibition. So, the exhibition is actually an IB Primary Years program. So, the IBPYP program does a capstone in fifth grade where all International baccalaureate schools do a fifth grade exhibition. And so, this is where students really create their own unit of inquiry. They create their own central idea and their own lines of inquiry and do their own research with the help of mentors within the school and students like the U of M art students. And so, this art piece will really be a component to help support their central idea, where they're often exploring a social or global problem and what potential solutions there might be. So, it's been really fun watching the students brainstorm over the last week or two and imagine what project and what art media they're going to incorporate in their exhibition, which will be on April 11th.

Rylee Barnsdale: And we can wrap up our conversation by talking maybe a little bit about the future. Are there plans to continue this partnership with the University of Michigan for future years, maybe even expanding the partnership to cover other areas besides the arts? Is there anything on that that you can share with us?

Melanie Eccles: As far as the four of us teachers are concerned, we're going to continue this partnership each year and continue to build on it as we develop our understanding of both how our units work together and what our goals are as educators in the college classroom and in the fifth-grade classroom. So, we continue to want to work together and improve this program for our students. And as far as I know, I don't think there's beyond the Stamps program, because this is really a class that Miss Melanie Manos developed to take their artwork and bring their love of art into the community.

Rylee Barnsdale: Well, thank you so much, Melanie, for chatting with me today about your class and your work with Stamps. I'm sure you're very excited to see what your students have created come the exhibition in April.

Melanie Eccles: Yes! I can't wait!

Rylee Barnsdale: For more information on today's topic and links to the full article, visit our website at WEMU dot org. On the Ground Ypsi is brought to you in partnership with Concentrate Media. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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