Former Springs Teacher Irene Tully Leads 5th Grade Trip to Long House

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On Teacher Appreciation Day this week I climbed back in the saddle as a teacher and guided fifth graders from my former school at Springs around the sixteen acre magical sculpture gardens of LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton. We had Goldilocks weather—just right. Booked as the docent a couple of months ago by my former student, Owen McCormack, who was in my preschool class 40 years ago! And, at Springs, I taught his son--my first grandkid student.

We had exchanged ideas and he followed up and did his homework: yes, he'd bring along a big rolling measuring tape, he’d ordered an inflatable globe, the kids would have their notebooks so writing would anchor the visit. He even topped me: he brought along a portable speaker that would link some music in the outdoors.

I relate to fifth graders, having taught that grade half my career. I like ages ten and eleven--before the hormones dig in. They’re game for anything fun and interesting.

We gathered at the Fly's Eye Dome and I gave background information. Most had visited with their classes before but I shed some light on founder Jack Larsen, the fallow farm field that the property once was. Owen directed the kids to save a page for vocabulary terms--fallow, allee, alloy, Cryptomeria, Hornbeam, zephyr, bronze. At one point when they were theorizing what made Takashi Soga's "Eye of the Ring" move, Mr. McCormack disappeared. Five minutes later he had "the whole world in his hands,"and holding the giant globe over his head. He'd searched for and found one for $5.00 on Amazon--delivered! So he inflated it on the grounds near an outdoor socket. And that kicked in the geography connections. I quizzed the kids about countries and continents as soon as we'd stop at a sculpture: Korea, China, Japan in Asia. They found the Netherlands when we stood by deKooning's bronze Seated Figure. I told of how he was a stowaway who made his way to America in his early twenties to wind up in Springs. His granddaughters were in my fifth grade class.

At the large steel Mao's shirt, we told of the cultural revolution in China and how the artist decided to depict the artwork as a message of Mao's "empty promises" that were not delivered and how this was a time of burning books and limited art. A short distance away stood Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman. Another history lesson emerged as I related the artist's tribute to the three thousand people who perished ‪on 9/11, years before these students were born. The issue of censorship came up as I shared that the sculpture stood near Rockefeller Center for only one week before protests prompted the city officials to remove it. I shared that the artist asked that visitors all take the hand of his Tumbling Woman and remember those that were lost that sad September day eighteen years ago.

The globe made its way up to Jack's “Treehenge” as the class gathered and held up the world. One boy had asked about Stonehenge earlier. We rounded the path to ‪Yoko Ono's eye-popping Play it By Trust chess set. I explained why folks cannot move the pieces--and then Luke piped up that he had a theory of why the pieces were all white: "it means they were not at war--they were the same."

Owen placed the portable speaker on the grass and urged his kids to clasp hands and create a link around the square sculpture. I asked who Yoko's husband was, and if anyone could name ‪the Beatles; then ‪John Lennon's voice rang out with "Imagine." We all sang along about how the "world will live as one." In the middle of the giant white sculpture pieces the globe rested. And for the moment there was peace.

Will Ryman's giant red rose lured us closer and the students quickly wrote odes to it after their teacher shared a rap rhyme. I shared that the artist’s theme has to do with passing time—as the fallen petals symbolize. Next was Yuan Capote's sculpture of the traveler. Cuba was identified on the globe and students were asked to "be" the man perched on the suitcase write "to" him. Heads down, their pencils filled the page. Inviting them to play the role of the man seemed to free up their words and minds.

Lunch break was back at Buckminster Fuller’s Fly's Eye Dome with the rest of the fifth grade students. Two musicians from Owen's class had brought along their trumpets so when we made our way to the earthen amphitheater they were ready to serenade. Standing alongside Jun Kaneko's shiny ceramic Dango the boys played fast and then slowly. I invited them head outside the bowl to play so we could hear the difference; Owen asked them to parade up and over the top and then down again to the center. The audience all noticed the difference in volume and they experienced what "amp" means, as the sounds were captured. Itchy to move in the outdoors, the students marched and danced to the beat of the horns—but had to freeze when they stopped. Like a version of Red Light/Green Light, they happily complied. Some singers asked to belt out a Justin Timberlake tune as it blared from the little speaker. The learning day stayed upbeat.

To calm down our troupe found and sat at the foot of the ceramic goats; odes were written and read aloud before the finale: a class photo taken by Orly Granger's blue rope wave called “Honey” and it was a wrap.

A good day learning outside--geography, history, math, science, literature through art and nature, music and dance--can't be beat. LongHouse is an outdoor classroom where all subjects are integrated through nature and sculptures.

-Irene Tully