Ley uses art to ‘teach by the book’

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Art makes math, English and social studies more fun — so Mary Ley uses it to teach her students at North Middle School. Her efforts won the Unique Project Award from ABE.
Ley’s International Baccalaureate students created a book about cowboys and cowgirls, visiting museums and working ranches to learn about the job of wranglers. They collaborated with a Florida school, whose students learned about rodeo cowboys. The result: a book filled with art that students can keep to show their hard work.
The project was paid for by grants by the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs and School District 11.
“I took the students to Chico Basin Ranch to talk to working cowboys and see what they do,” Ley said. “Then we went to the Black Cowboy Museum in Denver to find out the importance of black cowboys. We focused on the wranglers — what they do, how they work in Colorado.”
Martha Crisp, principal at North Middle School nominated Ley for the award.
“Mary Ley took the words of Maya Angelou to heart: ‘If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young,’” she said. “And what better way to excite students to read than to help them produce their own book?”
Part of a five-year plan, Ley’s students are working on their second book, “Land that I Love,” which focuses on Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods.
The books use a collaboration of art, science and English, and are a way to make learning fun, Ley said.
“I think you need to get more involved, that the best learning takes place outside the classroom,” she said. “Art makes all the other subjects more fun, and the books give the students a sense of pride when they have something that can show what all their hard work went into.”
A 29-year veteran teacher, Ley said she thinks that learning should be about more than just teaching for state testing. She took the role of North Middle School’s IB coordinator because it gave her a platform to combine art with other school programs.
“I’m not opposed to state testing,” she said. “But there are ways to teach and have students perform well on the test — ways that are innovative and fun, to prepare classroom projects that will in the end, increase student performance levels.”