“In Flanders Field,” the annual art show and silent auction created by USD Professor Jing Williams and her students that was held last month at the public library, this year raised $1,180, the largest amount ever. Last week, Williams and three students from the class presented the money as a donation to VFW Post 3061 during their monthly meeting.
“This year’s exhibition was fabulous!” said Williams. “It went on for three days, from February 26 to 28. I was not there the whole time, only popping up whenever I had a chance. Every time when I dropped by, there were people viewing our art. After talking with some of them, I learned that some people stopped in the library more than once to see our art. I don’t know the exact number of people who came to our exhibit, but looking at the signatures on the bidding sheets and comments left in the visitors’ log, I know quite a lot of people stopped by. I talked with some viewers when I was there. Many of them told me they appreciated the students’ art and hoped that we could continue hosting the event.”
This is the fourth time Williams has staged this art show fundraiser for Post 3061 as part of the elementary education class -- K-8 Social Science Methods -- she teaches at USD.
“I love this project in my social studies classroom not only because it teaches my future teachers how to be creative in teaching, but also because it engages them in learning at a deeper level and it brings the best out of each student,” she said. “My students do not treat this project as another assignment that they have to complete. Instead, they try to personalize their own artwork.”
Williams is very proud of the art her students created and the success the show had this year in particular.
“I think there are three main reasons why we did so well this year,” she said. “First, we received great support from the local community. The Plain Talk ran a news story before the art event, so more people knew about it. They came to our art event and generously left donations, either in the format of a free-will donation or by purchasing students’ art. Some of them stopped in more than once. Second, the location of our art exhibit attracted more people. Dan Burniston, the director of the Vermillion Public Library, allowed us to use the public space in the library to display students’ art. When people came into the library, the first thing they saw was our exhibit. It was hard for them not to take a look. Last but not least, my students really put their heart into their artwork. If you saw their art, you know what I mean. They dedicated time and effort to the art project and created high quality art. They told me they always wanted to do something for veterans and this art event was a great opportunity for them to show their appreciation for our veterans.”
Williams uses other veteran-related projects in her classroom as well. This week, in a different class, Williams’ students presented their “Clay County’s Fallen” research findings. This project involves the students doing primary and secondary research into veterans from Clay County, South Dakota, and then writing about their findings and presenting them to the public.
“This is my teaching, but also a community event,” said Williams. “Some local community members will attend. The VFW members will form a judging panel and select the top three best student researchers. The top one researcher will be invited to be the guest speaker at this year’s Memorial Day Observance.”
Williams likes to include patriotic and hands-on projects in her classrooms as a way of engaging students with the community.
“I love the community of Vermillion,” said Williams. “People are very patriotic and feel proud to support us and our veterans. I hope I could do more with my future students to further strengthen the relationship between the university and the community.”
In the future, Williams definitely plans to continue both the Clay County’s Fallen research project and the “In Flanders Field” fundraising art exhibition.
“I’ll definitely continue it,” she said. “Each year [the exhibition] gets better and better. If I were to stop doing it, I would deprive my future students of a wonderful opportunity to collaboration with VFW Post 3061. I really hope that we could extend the exhibit to a week-long event in the near future. art event like this not only brings the community together and raise awareness of veterans’ contributions and sacrifice, but also teaches my students, who are future elementary school teachers, how to teach about wars from a human perspective and how to host a similar event with their students to do something good for their community. It cultivates young people’s civic competence. We all come from a community. The community gives us so much for us to grow, so we need to find a way to give it back to our community.”