background image
he perfect pairing of form and
function now resides in a Lowell
elementary school, thanks to
students in MCC Art Professor Jan
Arabas' Electronic Imaging course.
A colorful, moveable alphabet that combines
English letters with multicultural images has
been installed in the preschool wing at
Murkland Elementary School. Created last
spring as a community-service class project,
the series of 52 upper- and lower-case letters
incorporates graphic images of objects that
start with each specific letter. (For example,
images of a boat, banana and bubbles appear
on the letter "B.")
In addition to images of common items (a
shiny silver quarter for "Q" and a big green
insect for "I"), Murkland fourth-graders,
under the direction of Preschool/
Kindergarten Special Education Teacher
Sarah McPhee, also created drawings of
objects that MCC students incorporated into
some of the alphabet's letters.
The result is a fascinating collection of
photographs and drawings artfully combined
on each large letter. Every capital and lower-
case letter can be taken off the wall and
moved around to spell different words. And
the entire alphabet is hung about 3 feet off
the ground (eye level for a 4-year-old) --
along a hallway outside Murkland's six
preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
"The kids love this alphabet and they love to
look at it," said McPhee. As the youngsters
walk up and down the hall during the school
day, she explained, they playfully point out
the letters to each other, and continually find
pictures of objects within each letter.
"What the children don't realize is that the
alphabet is not only teaching them their
letters, but helping them develop language
skills, such as sound development," McPhee
added. "By looking at the pictures on each
letter, they can figure out what that letter
sounds like."
This Middlesex-Murkland partnership grew
out of a trip to Cambodia made by Arabas
and McPhee in the summer of 2010. They
were among 13 MCC and Lowell Public
Schools teachers who took part in a U.S.
Department of Education Fulbright-Hays
Group Project Abroad, designed to promote
communication between American and
Cambodian educators.
"When we were in Cambodia, Sarah and I
talked about doing some kind of
collaboration," said Arabas. "I'm always
looking for community-service projects for
my design students, and Sarah is an early
childhood learning specialist who teaches
young children how to read. So, we came up
MCC Students Design
Alphabet Teaching Tool
Celebrating the installation of Murkland Elementary School's new moveable alphabet
are (left to right) Lowell Public Schools Superintendent Jean M. Franco;
PreK/Kindergarten Special Education Teacher Sarah McPhee; Middlesex Community
College Professor of Art Jan Arabas, and Murkland School Principal Jason DiCarlo.
One of the first things
(my students) had to
figure out was,
`Who are we designing
this alphabet for?'
And, basically, they
learned their clients were
younger than 5 years old
and less than
3 feet tall!
Jan Arabas
Professor of Art
Lowell Public Schools
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