This June, independent school educators came to Asheville School's campus from across the country to participate in Project Connect, a three-day conference devoted to building personal and interdisciplinary connections that can be applied to classroom teaching.
The 2018 conference focused on the history and legacy of Black Mountain College, a liberal arts college that was active from 1933-1957. During its short tenure, Black Mountain College produced some of the most influential artists of the late 20th century. The college placed arts and creative works at the center of learning, which allowed for the cultivation of the creativity that flowed from its students.
Co-founder of Project Connect Jay Bonner says that this year's conference sought to explore that legacy and apply lessons from Black Mountain College to today's curriculum in order to inspire and motivate students. "This conference is about connections," Bonner said. "We represent independent schools and we have an opportunity to design independent curricula for our students. We hope everyone leaves with specific ways to connect disciplines in our own teaching and school work."
Through a series of addresses and workshops, attendees learned about interdisciplinary teaching tools, the role of arts in learning across subjects, and the power of using connection and meaning as a guide in the classroom.
Mary Emma Harris, the leading authority on the arts at Black Mountain College, was the conference's keynote speaker. "Black Mountain College has become a touchstone for a community of educators interested in interdisciplinary learning, the arts in education, and experimental forms," she said. "It provides an example of the capacity of the arts to enhance all areas of learning, to foster imaginative thinking and to gain confidence through risk-taking, creative projects."
Harris says that Project Connect really united participants through their ideas, their programs and their goals. "I was impressed with the intense conversations between sessions," she said. "Everyone was energized about the possibilities for interdisciplinary learning and arts centered education."
One participant, Ellen Louise Ray, wrote to Bonner after the conference: "I am abuzz with all of the fabulous ideas sparked by the conference," she said. "What an incredible combination of history, poetry, visual art, movement, and pedagogy—I left deeply excited about what it is to be human, and also about the ways I might create a truly interdisciplinary classroom—where art and creation are central, and students are invited to show up, not for the sake of grades, but because of genuine interest and passion."
This, Bonner says, is what Project Connect is all about. "We must ask ourselves—how do we create meaning for our students? Meaning that is threaded into the days and weeks and semesters, meaning that is not presented as a one-off event but is woven throughout."
Learn more about the conference and sign up for the newsletter on the Project Connect website: www.projectconnectnc.com.