Roman Art in the Hands of All

Mary Jo Behrensmeyer

Latin Instructor/World language Department Chairman, Mount Vernon High School

High school students are high school students whether they are accelerated and college bound, or they are students with multiple disabilities. All seek to learn, thrive and become productive citizens. Collaboration is an ideal way to serve a diverse group of students.

Annually, the Latin III classes of Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, Ohio, are paired with students of multiple disabilities to create mosaics based on mythological themes.

Together in one classroom, the students study mythology, view clips from movies such as Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, Jim Henson’s Muppet series on mythology, and view mythological pictures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Latin III students then assist the special needs’ students with their choice of myth or monster, god or goddess, to create a mosaic based on this picture. Both groups then meet for one week to create the mosaic. The students quickly become friends, discussing dates, jobs, activities, etc. All looked forward to their daily meetings which culminated in a party on the last day. On that day, a picture show is presented, highlighting the students at work on their projects and watching the progression of their projects to their completion. Once completed, the finished mosaics are put on display in an Art Show the First Friday of May in downtown Mount Vernon at Creative Foundations, an organization that assists adults with Special Needs. The art show is complete with refreshments and displays. The students, both advanced and special needs, come to the art show to share their experience with the community and display their work. It is a tremendous source of pride for all involved.

To “electrify” a learning experience necessitates an authentic experience, a credible authority. The creation of mosaics based on mythological themes augments the learning of Latin for the Latin III students by transferring their knowledge to the special needs students, provides an academic experience for the special needs students, and an artistic experience for the Mount Vernon Community who view the mosaics. The success of this project has been featured at the Ohio Classical Conference annual meeting, the Illinois Classical Conference, Central States Conference, the Ohio State University, et al. and is still annually covered by the local newspaper. Presentations have been made by the Latin III students themselves at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.

Not without its expenses, this project is funded by a Youth Philanthropy Initiative Grant from the Community Foundation of Knox County. Materials have also been funded by Martha Holden Jennings Grants and various fundraisers by the Latin III students. This project has grown to include all of the Special Needs Students of Knox County.

To illustrate the impact of this project on the special needs students, two examples will be shared. Two years ago one of the students suffered a massive heart attack and lost her life. Next to her casket in the funeral home was an easel with her mosaic proudly displayed. Her parents indicated that the mosaic she created was so special and important to her that they wanted it next to her coffin. Another student sits in the hallway daily and talks to himself EXCEPT during the mosaics. Two Latin III students actually sat on the floor and created the mosaic with him and TOGETHER created the mosaic. His mother cried upon receiving it because it was the first thing he had ever made. This project also impacts the Latin III students. They come to realize that their only differences are cognitive abilities—everything else is the same.

This project is truly an EDUCATION for all involved.

MARY JO BEHRENSMEYER has been teaching Latin for 41 years. She has served as a senior staff archaeologist for the Ohio State university Excavations at Isthmia and as Latin teacher at Mount Vernon High School since 1985. She was a finalist for the Ohio Teacher of the Year, 2017 and the Leona Glenn Outstanding World Language Teacher 2012. She has served as Past President of the Ohio Classical Conference and has served as its Secretary/Treasurer since 2010. For further information on this project or assistance with grant writing, please contact Ms.
Behrensmeyer at mbehrensmeyer@mvcsd.us.