Brittney Skousen’s mom helped her to create an Egyptian dress and draped her in jewelry to get in character for the day.
Brittney’s first-grade teacher, Leslie Reisdorf , with assistance from the Payson Art League (PAL), then transported the children to Egypt — complete with an art project, food and dress.
“I suggested kids could dress up in either modern or ancient Egyptian clothes,” said Reisdorf.
Reisdorf herself dressed up in a costume with a long white sheath dress, gold encircled headband and gobs of jewelry.
“I explained to students that jewelry identified the wealth of the person in ancient Egypt,” said Reisdorf.
She decided to put together an Egyptian day after going to a Gifted and Talented conference in February, which included a section on teaching history and art.
An education business had an exhibit of their pottery based on ancient history.
“They passed out pottery and a brochure with projects, which tie in with the history of the pottery,” said Reisdorf.
Although the company made pots from all periods of history, including Southwestern pottery from the Hohokam and Pueblo eras, Reisdorf decided on the Egyptian theme.
She and her husband had been to Egypt, so the pots made to look like the ancient Egyptian sarcophagus found in the pyramids caught her eye and inspired her curriculum.
“I’m trying to make it a cultural experience,” said Reisdorf.
To help the children immerse themselves in the subject, Reisdorf knew she could show pictures from her trip, including ancient tombs and modern soldiers, (Reisdorf traveled to Egypt shortly before the political disturbances).
But she ran up against a huge challenge: the cost.
“Each pot cost $6.75,” she said.
The cost would not have been a problem if Reisdorf had limited her project to just her classroom, but she wanted to share the experience with the more than 150 first-grade students at Payson Elementary School.
When she added it all up, the price tag came to over $1,200.
Her meager classroom budget could in no way cover that cost, so she decided to turn to the Payson Art League.
PAL started in 1976 with the dream of supporting and promoting art in the Rim Country as well as art in the schools.
Each year, PAL hosts two fund-raising events, the ’Neath the Rim Artists Studio Tour in May and ARToberFEST in October. The proceeds from these events go to fund PAL’s support of the classrooms in Rim Country schools.
“I sent Pat Sessions (chair of the PAL education committee) a whole packet to have artists take a look at it,” said Reisdorf.
On the day of the sarcophagus painting, PAL president Don Harmon, Sessions and PAL members Jan Ransom, Pat Williams, Shannon Bielke and Donn Morris came to assist the students to paint and place hieroglyphics on the sarcophagus pots.
The artists generously donated their time and the club contributed to purchase the supplies.
As Harmon showed a group of first-graders how the Egyptians would have painted the pot, he told a story of when he went to Egypt.
“When I was in Egypt, I went to the McDonald’s and got a camel burger,” he said, “At least, that is what I was told.”
He smiled at the kids as they looked wide-eyed at one another.
“How much money does it cost to go to Egypt?” asked Carlos Rodriguez.
“It costs a lot,” said Harmon.
Harmon clearly enjoyed relating to the children as they worked on the pots.
It is interesting what the kids took away from the day, however.
Brittney’s main comment had to do with learning that the ancient children shaved their heads if they were poor.
“That was nasty,” she said of the practice.