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Dreamhouses.

Dreamhouses

When I was about twelve or thirteen years old I can remember thinking about the future and what it would hold for me. Though this was many years ago, I believe these same thoughts cross the minds of young students today. However, there is one sad difference between our shared thoughts. I was always encouraged by my parents, who held education high in esteem, the key to future success. These same priorities are not always recognized today.

My parents were hardworking immigrants, living in tenements and toiling long hours to support a family during the depression and war years. Education was thought of as something very special, a privilege. I did not need to be reminded to stay in school, get my degree, a job, and ultimately a home of my own. I wanted to and was expected to attain the "American Dream." In those days you didn't hear of many dropouts. The sexual freedoms, the drugs, broken homes, the necessity of two incomes didn't seem to exist.

As I pondered the immense burdens of our time and the ever-increasing dropout rate, I searched for solutions. How could I, as an art teacher, help my students attain success? An idea came to me, and without hesitation I began planting the seeds of success in my sixth grade students.

My students come from homes where dreams may seem unattainable. The color of their skin, economic hardships and drugs are factors which keep them from reaching their goals. They come from the inner city, a place which often leaves ravaging scars on our children. I set out to make my students believe in success.

I thought about the goals my parents set for me and tried to give my students the same motivation. I encouraged my students to visualize their long term goals and believe that they could accomplish whatever they wished. I wanted them to feel the strength my parents instilled in me. I wanted them to feel invincible. I stressed that a good education and hard work could make them successful.

Motivation is high on my list of priorities, so my first lesson focused on whetting my students' appetites with possibilities. Together we looked at photographs of beautiful homes and gardens. Their first reaction was shock at the display of opulent beauty. Then I began to hear negative comments that this lifestyle was not meant for them. The consensus was that they could never have a house like the ones shown because one negative (as they presently viewed their lives) would only lead to another. Keeping in mind my initial goal of motivation, I quickly turned their thoughts in another direction and encouraged them to set their imaginations free.

As the class explored positive thoughts and wishes, we began to create. A piece of paper was quickly folded like a business letter. The centerfold of the paper was used to depict the front of their "dreamhouse" and tentative sketching began. The students began to wonder, in a positive way, how to make their dreams tangible.

Despite vivid imaginations, the students realized that only in dreams are houses free, and a lively discussion took place on the problem of money. Banking procedures were explained: mortgage, collateral and interest became a working part of their vocabulary. The final question was, "How does one obtain a mortgage?" After more discussion we all decided that a well-paying job was a necessity. The following formula developed: To get a job...

you'll need an education. To get an education...

you'll need to stay in school. To stay in school...

you'll need to abstain from drug

and substance abuse. To be strong enough to do this...

you cannot succumb to peer pressure. To do this...

you'll need to choose the right friends,

which starts right now. My students responded well to this chain of ideas.

Lesson two began with a review of our goals. Then, we traced the dreamhouses onto oaktag which was also folded into threes. Many revised their original ideas and worked on more elaborate designs. Details and texture were added as bricks, stones and clapboards were drawn. Windowboxes were filled with lush floral displays. Steps and railings appeared at front doors. All of this magic was created with markers, crayons and colored pencils. The dreamhouses were coming alive!

We began lesson three with another review of our goals. The students wrote our formula for success on the inside of their houses. This served as a continuous reminder of the goals we had agreed to meet.

The next step was to give each student a piece of property to set their dreamhouse on. The property was represented by a 12" x 18" (30 cm x 46 cm) piece of construction paper. Now that the students had more design problems to solve, their ingenuity took over. "Where on the property does my house look best?" "What should I do with the rest of the property?" It's easy to imagine the difficulty this excess land presented for a city child!

Soon all of the students tried their creativity as landscape architects and gardeners. Beautiful flower gardens surrounded by shrubbery appeared. Pools, tennis courts and birdbaths were installed. The materials included scraps of paper, craypas, crayons and paint.

In my twenty years of teaching I have never seen a sixth grade class work so feverishly. They pasted, glued, cut and painted, eager to display their dreamhouses for all to see on "Student of the Year" day. We carried the lesson even further and discussed the real estate market. Some students wanted to sell their houses and get better ones. Success was proving to be contagious!

One student requested another piece of property because he had "messed" up his piece. His property was haphazardly designed and showed little effort. He was denied new property by the other students and was asked to clean up his place so as not to leave a slum behind. After some fervent work he was applauded when a playground and pool appeared on the previously unsightly piece of real estate. What an amazing transition!

The seeds of success have been planted. Today, a dreamhouse on construction paper property sits proudly on a dresser in an adolescent's room. It serves as a reminder of success each day when thoughts of confusion and doubt about the future come to mind. Silently it conveys this message: I can, yes it is possible, if I start NOW!

Brunie Kandora teaches art at St. Catherine of Genoa School in Brooklyn, New York.
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Author:Kandora, Brunie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Words:1084
Previous Article:Cooperative learning: a new strategy for the artroom.
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