Grinnell students teach languages, arts in town

By Leah Dawson

Grinnell College prides itself not only on academic rigor, but also on students’ dedication to community service and social justice. Through a local program called the Arts Academy, Grinnell students are presented with the opportunity to get to know and work with members of the Grinnell community by teaching courses on a variety of subjects, including art, music and foreign languages.

The Arts Academy is housed downtown in the old Stewart Library – Sophie Fajardo

The Arts Academy is run by the Grinnell Area Arts Council and housed in the old Stewart Library in town. The courses are organized with help from Grinnell Arts Center employee Judy Arendt as well as Grinnell College Writing Lab employee Claire Moisan, who founded the Babel Tower Language Arts aspect of the program in an attempt to make language education more accessible in town.

James Anthofer ’11, an English major, has taught courses through the Arts Academy program for several semesters.

“The idea is that kids sign up and they have to pay a little bit of money at the beginning,” he said. “A school bus drops them off after school, they walk over to the Arts Academy around 3:30 and we teach and talk with them until around 5:30. There’s a bunch of classes going on, and we all get to work and hang out with our kids.”

Classes cost in the range of $50 to $60, plus supplies, and most meet once or twice a week, although there is an option for younger students to meet every weekday after school. Besides the lessons geared towards children in elementary and middle school, there are also classes offered for adults.
College students are welcome at the Arts Academy, either as students or as teachers. Currently, over a dozen Grinnell students work for the Arts Academy Program to prepare and teach courses covering a wide range of topics, including filmmaking, crochet, and Japanese youth culture.

Vicky Diedrichs ’11 developed and taught a Spanish language course during fall semester that included many cultural activities dealing with Latin American traditions.

“One day we made Spanish tombstones with shoeboxes with pictures of a famous Latin American individual who had died, and then decorated them and attached a paragraph with these people’s achievements,” she said. “Another day, we played Mexican board games.”

Through such activities, Diedrichs helped the children with their Spanish skills.

“We also tried to teach the kids vocabulary and develop a stronger language curriculum for them,” she said.

This spring, she will be teaching another class through the program, Adult Spanish for Travelers.

While Grinnell students teach classes at different levels in Spanish, French, German, and Chinese, student involvement is not limited to the language arts. The Arts Academy also offers classes in instrumental music, acting and studio art. For example, Anthofer currently teaches a class on comic books entitled Comic Mania. Anthofer created the basic outline of the course after meeting with the children and noticing that they all had some drawing experience.

“Usually,” he said, “[the students] sit down, do 20 minutes of free drawing and sketching, and after that, I try to get them to expand on these ideas and develop strips for the next hour and a half. I try to bring in comics for them to look at and get ideas with, and then help them out with panels and transitions.”

Teaching a class is not without challenges, particularly for those classes composed mostly of children.

“It’s tough, because I have different kids show up for different classes,” Anthofer said. “Another issue is that it’s right after school, so they have a lot of energy because they’ve been in school for eight hours. So that’s been kind of a challenge, but usually it’s okay.”

Still, Diedrichs emphasized that the Arts Academy Program has enhanced the College’s relationship with members of the town of Grinnell.

“[It’s] a really great way to strengthen the relationship between the College and the Grinnell community,” she said. “It’s an exchange of information that takes place between the College and the community. … I think it’s really valuable and rewarding, and a good experience for both parties.”