Creating Authentic Learning Experiences: Expressions of Me on View at San Diego Intl. Airport

Since the mid-nineties, social science researchers have been forming a definition of authentic learning experiences (Newmann and Wehlage, 1993).  Most definitions include concepts such as higher order thinking, meaningful engagement between the student and the material to be learned, and connectedness of the classroom work to a world beyond. In an era of standards and assessment, the search for this type of experience in a public school setting gets more and more challenging.  Part of the reason the Collaborative Arts Resources for Education program exists is to inspire a resurgence of the arts at the elementary school level because we feel that the benefits of the arts reach beyond the measurable impacts of the arts on students’ academic and personal success and into the realm of authenticity. The experience of participating in the arts is something bigger. Allow me to explain how we attempt to facilitate this on a practical level.

At the conclusion of every CARE artist residency, we host a school-wide student exhibition. Each student selects one work of art from his/her portfolio to place on view. The students also craft an artist statement to accompany the work and to explain the personal meaning of it. On the night of the exhibition opening, some students serve as art guides to lead tours through the show. Family members, school faculty and staff, and representatives from the CARE arts partners attend. We have produced these shows regularly since 2008, but recently we were invited to exhibit a selection of student artwork at the San Diego International Airport. With this new, more public venue came a heightened sense of achievement for the students, as well it should. An estimated 1 million people will travel through Terminal 2 during the show, which closes on Febaruary 17, 2012, and we believe about 1/3 of them will see the students’ work.

When we opened the airport show, “Expressions of Me,” which features work by students from Kimbrough Elementary, we made sure the student artists and their families could attend. The feeling of pride was palpable. The evening was capped with commendations from MOPA’s Executive Director, Deborah Klochko, and San Diego International Airport’s Art Program Manager, Constance White. The overall message to the students was full of congratulations and gratitude for being willing to take such a big risk. Sometimes it isn’t easy to have the confidence to show your work to your peers, much less to a large, public audience at a high-traffic venue. While at the same time, this risk is essential to the artistic process.

So the next time you fly into or out of Terminal 2, look for the CARE art show near the baggage claim carousels and know that these students are eager to hear what you think. We have a text-back feature where you can send a message to the students, which is one more way we are closing the loop to make this an ongoing, real-world, authentic experience for these young artists. You can also view a comprehensive online exhibition of the student work on the CARE website. For more information about the CARE program at MoPA or find out how you can become involved, contact Julie Kendig at or 619.238.7559 X221.