The art of learning|Port Gibson teacher uses mural, music for teaching

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

PORT GIBSON — Deck the walls with SpongeBob? That’s what one fourth-grade teacher in Port Gibson has done to get his students motivated.

Tilden Young of A.W. Watson Elementary decided at the beginning of the school year that he was going to do something different. He painted the walls in his classroom to mimic the ocean and characters from the Nickelodeon cartoon series “SpongeBob SquarePants” and the 2003 Walt Disney movie “Finding Nemo.”

“It seemed like one of those characters that the students can relate to,” Young said. “I figured if I bring him into the classroom, maybe they can relate to some of the things we are doing here.”

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Above Young’s desk are the words “Don’t be amazed, be amazing” — a phrase the students say to themselves, he said.

“We feel comfortable,” said 9-year-old Tyrese Craft, the son of Hubert Craft and Veronica West. “This shows that he still has some of his childhood left in him.”

Young, a Port Gibson native who started teaching straight out of college, about four years ago, said, “I thought it (the mural) would distract them, but one thing that it actually does is that it gives them a sense of pride and creativity. When they tell other students about their classroom, it’s a sense of saying that we have a great teacher. It creates a standard for me and a rapport with them.”

Aside from art on the walls, Young has moved his teaching methods outside the box.

To teach multiplication tables and vocabulary words to 9- and 10-year-olds, he adds music to the mix. His students are reciting numbers and spelling words to the beat of hip-hop while they move to the  beat.

Young said his students are receptive to his methods, and it shows through their enthusiasm and high grades — mostly A’s and B’s.

A few other teachers at A.W. Watson also have art and inspirational words painted in their classrooms.

In Woodrow Price’s fifth-grade class, the phrase “I do, you do” goes with a football scene on one wall.

 The school’s computer lab was the first to feature a mural 10 years ago. Two Port Gibson High School students painted a jungle scene on the walls of the room.

Curtis Ross, principal of third- through fifth-graders at A.W. Watson, supports art in the classroom.

“The murals definitely inspire the students,” said Ross, also pastor of Greater Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Vicksburg. “We want to make school a place to have wonderful and meaningful experiences.”

A total of seven murals decorate the 800-student school. The school provides teachers with primary paint, but some teachers go beyond and reach into their own pockets to do more.

The elementary school nixed an art class five years ago due to money, but each teacher incorporates art into his or her lessons, Ross said.

Marvin Harvey is principal for pre-kindergarten through second grade at A.W. Watson.


Contact Manivanh Chanprasith at