This school year, the sixth-graders at Pershing Elementary school have traveled the world.


          OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but through a pilot program with the Dallas Museum of Art, they’ve experienced the art and culture of Asia, , , Rome, and Africa . Next month, they’ll go back in time to their final destination: Ancient America.


          Pershing is the only DISD school taking part in a new partnership program with the DMA. Each month, the school’s sixth-graders take a three-hour field trip to the museum and participate in interactive programs involving different parts of the world. Their exercises might involve a scavenger hunt, a creative session in the museum’s studio — where they’ve already made Egyptian amulets and African masks and hats — or an activity that requires them to imagine themselves as curators or archaeologists.


Back at school, Pershing’s sixth-grade faculty — social studies teacher Gwen Sargent, art teacher Pam Thorsen and TAG instructor Cynthia Williams — incorporate what the children have experienced into the curriculum.


          The goals of the program are many, says Nicole Stutzman, manager of school partnerships for the DMA, including introducing children to different cultures and instilling in them an appreciation for art through activities that are designed to be fun. But the program also strives to make children comfortable in a museum environment, thereby ensuring they return, and it gives parents and teachers the opportunity to teach together. Having worked with Pershing’s faculty and parents on other programs in the last few years, Stutzman knew the pilot would be well received.


          “They are teachers who cared a lot about what they were doing and had a passion for integrating art into their classroom,” she says. “So I knew it would end up being a quality program and that people would be committed.”   


          Sandy McLean, along with husband Jon and parents Elaine Sniderman and Terri Morgan, acts as a docent to the program, accompanying the kids and teachers on their excursions.


          “The children love it, and they can’t wait to go back,” she says, adding that her own son, Chase, already has a laundry list of favorite artists: Matisse, Picasso and Gogin.


          Stutzman, who says the program is much different than your typical school museum tour, also has been happy with the outcome.


          “I love to watch the kids. There’s always the oohs the ahs and the pointing,” she says. “Part of what the Pershing program is about is allowing that exploration to occur and giving them the opportunity to act like little mini-adults … to be art critics, share opinions, look more closely and think about what they’re seeing.”


          But if you’re picturing a pack of pre-teens standing around in black turtlenecks, stroking their chins and making esoteric comments, banish the thought. McLean says that while the boys are attracted to war-like items at the museum, such as swords and helmets, and the girls like “just about anything,” and everyone loves the mummy with the exposed feet, the real fun is had in the museum’s studio.


          “They love having that hands-on [environment],” she says. “They’re only 12 years old, but you can’t believe what some of them can do.”


          And Pershing, which has a bilingual program, doesn’t leave its non-English-speaking students behind. They take along staff interpreter Lidia Markham, because it’s important that all children get the experience, says McLean .


          “Some of these children have never, ever, ever been in an art museum and probably would never be in an art museum,” she says. “So we’re just so glad we have the opportunity for them to go.”


Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.