Durham Arts Council CAPS: Mosaic Alphabet with Jeannette Brossart

Mosaic artist Jeannette Brossart returned to Durham public schools this week. This time she worked with the Exceptional Children program at Hillandale Elementary. This unique opportunity was made possible by Arts Access, the state’s organization on arts and disability with funds from the VSA/Kennedy Center in partnership with the NC Arts Council and the Department of Public Instruction. Arts Access presented Arts for All: Including School-Age Children with Disabilities in Arts Education where Brossart and 30+ teaching artists received an introduction to strategies for including children of all abilities in arts education activities. Brossart was then selected to complete a residency at Hillandale Elementary.


Brossart’s Mosaic Alphabet project gave students (grades 3-5) the chance to create special mosaic tile pieces. The children planned their mosaics on a grid based on paper design patterns they had drawn. Afterwards, the grids were attached to base tiles with mastic. Ultimately, the final product took the form of the first letter of each student’s name mounted on a background of various colored patterns and designs. On the final day of the project, students completed a short evaluation form about their experience and then presented their works to the class. Not only did the children have a great time playing and creating beautiful works, but they also learned the importance of patience and cooperation. Additionally, they practiced public speaking as they shared their creations with their peers. Brossart had the following to say about the experience: “I liked being able to get to know the kids and give each child one on one interaction. I am happy that they all completed it [the mosaic project] and participated because we weren’t really sure if it would happen when we started.”


Students had an equally enjoyable time. When asked what her favorite part of the project was, Iyona responded that her favorite part “was making the ‘I’ beautiful.” Fifth grader, Noah, also enjoyed the class, claiming that he loved everything about the experience and disliked nothing. Third grader, Eduardo, learned how to modify a plan when running into obstacles. He originally planned a tile pattern based on a color scheme of green and orange. However, when orange tiles ran out, he rectified the problem by changing his design to include yellow pieces. And fourth grader Tyreq says that making the mosaic made him very happy.

The classes were beautiful and touching. CAPS manager, Shana Adams, and DAC Education intern, Rebecca Pham were greeted with smiles and hugs the moment they entered the classroom. The children are sweet, bright, and engaging. They thrive in the presence of other people and are especially excited by novel situations and visitors. Because they crave physical compassion and interaction, these types of art projects do wonders. The positive benefit the project has on the children’s demeanor, confidence, and emotional well-being is very clear. Additionally, this type of collaborative work brought the students closer together. During their presentations, the students exhibited a range of comfort with public speaking with some being very shy while others were very outgoing. Regardless, all students were a great audience for their peers and supported each other with cheers and applause.Image


The Mosaic class is one of the first CAPS programs to be offered to children with special needs. Brossart’s compassion and expertise has made the experience a huge success. Teacher Jolene Barber described Brossart as “highly skilled. She was able to break it down for them [the students] to understand. The project is something everyone can do. And the outcome is a solid, permanent product. Parents can keep it forever.” Barber further believes that this rare experience is so important for the students and would like activities like these to happen more often. Gardner’s Seven Intelligences emphasize a wide array of learning styles and it is these visual arts opportunities that celebrate the diversity of unique learning preferences. So many of the students have keen artistic abilities; Barber believes that the chance to engage in these types of projects serves as a testament to the many other areas in which kids can excel outside of language and math.

Principal Sandy Bates gave high praise to Brossart and the Arts Access program: “Thank you, all, for creating this opportunity for our children. Ms. Brossart is a gifted artist. To add to her skills, she works incredibly well with the children.  She is able to set the standard for management yet motivate children to find their creative skills.  All of you have provided Hillandale and our children with an incredible opportunity, as well as memories for a lifetime.”

Written by Rebecca Pham (Education Intern)