June 2018

By DeeGee Lester

Art in service to others is a concept that fits with the tradition of Father Ryan High School. Art teacher Mike Mitchell’s 3-D design students had experience from an earlier project with Dan Mills Elementary through which first grade English learners used six-sided blocks with emojis to explore concepts such as the 5 Senses. The concept appealed to his long-time friend Dr. Meg Bennefield from Vanderbilt’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Sculptural blocks with emojis; Courtesy Father Ryan High School

“As a child psychiatrist, I am always looking for new ways to incorporate play into my work,” says Bennefield. “We selected six basic emotions that are expressed across cultures: happy, sad, angry, disgusted, surprised, and afraid. The idea is that a child can roll the die and talk about a time they felt that emotion and discuss thoughts and behaviors associated with that emotion. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches that if we can think about the way we respond (or behave), we can change the way we feel.”

These sculptural blocks become a tool for doing that. Mitchell’s students combined digital design concepts with the use of a miter saw, creating blocks with emojis for each of these feelings.

Dr. Meg Bennefield from Vanderbilt’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with Father Ryan students; Courtesy Father Ryan High School

“The students approached this project as a collective group with Vanderbilt as our client,” says Mitchell. “They got to meet with Dr. Bennefield and ask questions. In most art projects, you get to keep your work, but in this case, they each made ten different things with nothing for themselves. They had to think outside themselves, and the final exam was for a special-needs (non-sighted, non-verbal) child. They learned that art can also serve—with joy.”

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