Kelly McConnell

We were fortunate to join forces with Kelly McConnell in 2011 through a collaborative partnership between the Maine College’s of Art’s (MECA) Masters of Arts in Teaching program and our LearningWorks Afterschool program for elementary school students. Kelly is currently the Director of Art Education Outreach and an Associate Professor at MECA. Her work involves collaborative, authentic, project‐based work in schools, museums, and community and alternative settings with learners of all ages and walks of life. As a teacher, Kelly McConnell is attuned to context and believes that all learning is cumulative, and that the learning experience is part of the construction of knowledge. She draws from frameworks such as Reggio Emilia inspired learning, the Studio Habits of Mind, and the equity‐based pedagogy of Paulo Freire. Training the next generation of art teachers has been her focus in recent years. Kelly is also a painter who has exhibited work at Mayo Street Arts and Three Fish Gallery.

Through a partnership with LWAS Director Amy Pichette, we began offering fieldwork activities to MECA’s Teacher Candidates. This fieldwork uses “The Studio Habits of Mind,” developed by Harvard’s Project Zero, as a framework to engage students in the art making process. In turn, it allows MECA’s Teacher Candidates to design and implement Arts Integration lessons under Kelly’s guidance. Kelly ensures all students have access to high quality art materials, including enough supplies to use at home as they learn to develop a creative practice outside the classroom.

The program culminates in a professionally mounted public exhibition of our students’ work that community members are invited to attend in conjunction with a First Friday Art Walk in Portland.

For Kelly,Art is a form of communication, a language that goes beyond words and the borders of speaking, reading, and writing. When taught effectively, the skills and habits of mind fostered in the art studio are lifelong tools. Through Make. Art. Think. we seek to elevate the art instruction in LearningWorks Afterschool.” She sees our partnership as a critical means of supporting children’s inherent creativity, the broader goals of creating “world citizens and 21st century learners,” and “professional enrichment for the adults who teach them.”

“LearningWorks’ philosophy is expansive. For example, as an Artist and Art Educator, I had an idea for how to augment an already proven STEM engineering focus with more hands-on Art and Design teaching, and they let me go for it. MECA’s MAT program already had strong summer fieldwork connections, but I got the go-ahead to add in a six-week grant driven Art Enrichment Program called Make.Art.Think. that runs every fall throughout seven of LearningWorks Afterschool’s sites.”


What I like best about partnering with LearningWorks is how we serve children to be their best selves. Afterschool time should be used by kids for enriching, engaging, self-directed activities. The trick with afterschool is that it can’t be school. The kids have got to want to be there, to feel understood and to do things that are important to them. Obviously, LearningWorks does that right, because the numbers of students served keeps expanding.”

 Photography Courtesy of Smith Galtney