The Gallery Teacher program, run by the Yale University Art Gallery, has received a $500,000 donation from a Yale alumnus, which will allow the program to provide guided tours for school groups free of charge.

The donation, which was made last December, will cover the cost of funding six graduate students to work up to 10 hours per week to give interactive lessons on the gallery’s collections. The program recruits teachers in the spring, and they then undergo 40 hours of training at the end of the summer.

“It’s exciting because you’re teaching art to graduate students, who then teach it to kids,” YUAG spokeswoman Amy Porter said.

In the program’s first year, every third-grader in a New Haven public school — over 1,500 students — will have had an opportunity to participate in the program. Some special education students also come to the classes. In one curriculum, kids design their own art gallery over a semester. In contrast to the gallery guide program, Gallery Teachers is student-centered, with an emphasis on questioning, YUAG Curator of Public Education Jessica Sacks said.

“The program really gives grad students a chance to think about using art to teach,” Sacks said.

But Sacks said the children learn about more than art. The Gallery Teacher curriculum meets the Connecticut State Learning Standards in the arts and social studies. The teachers are trained to place emphasis on articulation by having students come up with stories behind each painting. The training also explains how to answer questions, which is the hardest part of the process, Sacks said.

The current group of teachers is diverse, and includes a photographer from the School of Art, a doctoral candidate studying capuchin monkeys, and an aspiring architect.

“Gallery Teachers come from many disciplines,” Porter said.

While New Haven’s elementary schools offer art classes, most schools in the Elm City do not have art programs every day. At Fair Haven Middle School, the art budget is $1 per student for the entire year. Art becomes an elective at the secondary school level, Sacks said.

“We’re their first exposure to art, which is a pivotal moment,” Sacks said.

Porter said she thinks the program teaches kids to trust what they see and not just passively read about it.

“Traditionally the time you start reading is when you stop drawing,” Porter added.

Nathan Rich ARCH ’08, one of the six Gallery Teachers, said he thinks the program is valuable.

“[Students] learn a method of looking, making art accessible and useful,” he said. “To that end, the program has been enormously successful. During our lessons, the students are focused. They’re looking into the art.”