April 10, 2024

Student uses her experience to create art project with local schoolchildren

people standing next to a framed wall art piece

Using a trip Melissa Converse took with other Schoolcraft College students last fall on a schooner in the Detroit River, she brought her experience to a classroom at Johnson Upper Elementary School and had students help create a unique art project that now hangs in the Liberal Arts Building.

A trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts gave Melissa Converse the inspiration for her Individual Service Option Service Learning project.

Seeing a piece constructed using several images made up by a Korean artist, Converse realized she could use an experience she had last fall to create an artistic expression. She took her ideas and created a collage with the help of some area fifth graders, a collaborative approach that connected her with the local community.

Using a trip she took with other Schoolcraft College students last fall on a schooner as a part of the University of Michigan’s Detroit River Story Lab, she brought her experience to a classroom at Johnson Upper Elementary School in Westland where her son attends. There, she created a lesson plan for the students that led to the creation of an artistic piece that touches on the ecological, geopolitical and cultural effect the river has had on the region.

“We went through a timeline of the river’s history,” Converse said. “It was really fun to do.”

Visiting a classroom in the Livonia Public Schools building in January, Converse then took the pieces the students created – which included words, paintings, pictures and more – and built the final piece, entitled “Our Detroit River.” The project fulfilled a Service Learning component for Converse, who enrolled at Schoolcraft College after decades of being away from school.

The Individual Service Option allows students to embark on a specialized project specifically tailored to a student’s interest that fits with existing coursework. Students that earn a minimum of 12 credit hours in classes designated as Academic Service Learning receive a Service Learning Endorsement from the College, reflecting their engagement with the community. Such an endorsement can be advantageous for students transferring to a four-year institution or pursuing a career in service.

Taking a chance on school

A Michigan Reconnect student, Converse said she’s done several things in her life, including social work, real estate and being a stay-at-home mom. Wanting to return to school, she saw the Reconnect program and found she qualified.

“I applied for Reconnect and got it within an hour,” she said. “The rest is history.”

After applying, Reconnect gave her an opportunity to pursue her dreams. Converse said she couldn’t wait to enroll and begin pursuing an academic career in writing. The experiences of both being on the schooner on the water and spending time in a fifth-grade classroom have done nothing but enhance her educational experience.

The project with the fifth graders was done with Dr. Brett Griffiths, an English faculty member with whom Converse has enjoyed working with.

Griffiths said the Service Learning project is one that encapsulates a variety of important elements, including the creative elements and the lesson plans for the students associated with it.

“It appeared to several types of talents,” Griffiths said. “Everybody felt they had a valuable role to play in learning.”

Converse said she has found her experiences at Schoolcraft College invaluable. It has gotten her enough experience and set her up for success: after graduating later this spring, Converse will enroll at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in English.

Coming back to school after years away, Converse said, has been an experience she treasures. She credits several groups she’s worked with for helping her reach new heights.

“I truly have found myself here at Schoolcraft. And I am now prepared for the University of Michigan and my future. This preparedness never happens by accident, and I want to be sure to express gratitude to Schoolcraft College, the University of Michigan, the Service Learning opportunity and to my mentor/teacher and unabashed cheerleader Dr. Brett Griffiths.  “Without quality faculty, quality outcomes would not be possible.” 

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