St. Mary's School — Medford's Catholic middle and high school — has been selected as one of 1,500 schools nationwide to serve as a pilot for a new program designed to enhance art and history instruction through distribution of reproductions of American masterpieces.
The National Endowment for the Humanities gave St. Mary's 40 reproductions of American art in laminated poster form with ideas on how to use them for instruction.
For details, visit picturingamerica.neh.gov.
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity," said history teacher Jim Meyer. "We don't live in a big city. There are very few schools that have the opportunity to view great works of art."
The endowment's goal is to eventually bring the collection to every public library and public school system in the nation to give students and citizens "a deeper appreciation of our country's history and character through the study and understanding of its art," according to the program's Web site.
"It allows the students to create a mental picture of that time period and an event," Meyer said. "History not created just with the written word; it's created with images and great works of art."
Some educators have complained the emphasis on reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind Act has detracted from instruction in art and history.
As a private Catholic school, St. Mary's isn't obligated to give the annual standardized tests required by the federal government in public schools to show students' proficiency in reading, writing and math.
"We get to teach the best of all subjects because we aren't bound by the state test," Meyer said.
A survey earlier this year by Common Core, a research and advocacy group in Washington, D.C., seeking more liberal arts instruction in public schools, showed that American teenagers are alarmingly ignorant of American history.
Fewer than half of 1,200 17-year-olds who were asked 33 multiple-choice questions about history and literature knew when the Civil War was fought. Nearly 20 percent didn't know who the United States and its Allies' enemy was in World War II, and more than a quarter thought Columbus sailed to the New World after 1750 instead 1492.
"The pieces in schools and libraries might bring a little bit of conformity, but I don't think it'll have the effect of creating consistency in American history curriculum across the country," Meyer said.
Meyer said he hasn't crafted lesson plans yet to incorporate the art.
"I could see us writing stories about the Colonial Period and the artist's view of what's going on," Meyer said.
Art teacher Betsy Moore said she'll use the posters for classroom lessons and hang them around the campus so students become familiar with them.
"It's larger than what they see in a book, and it's laminated, which is a big deal for us," Moore said. "It's something students can see and touch and feel."
St. Mary's expects its students to be able to look at any artwork, analyze it and bring it into historical context, Moore said.
In May — art month — Moore plans to use the posters for art recognition competitions between students.
Meyer said the school also plans to make the prints available to others for educational purposes.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or email@example.com.