Friday, November 13, 2020

Art classes provide creative outlet for elementary students during pandemic

RSU 14 Art Teacher Julie Clark gives an outdoor
art lesson about contrast to fourth-grade students
at Manchester School on Tuesday. School
administrators say art is an important subject
for students right now as it provides a type of
learning that may keep them more engaged during
the pandemic, PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
By Elizabeth Richards

For many young students, art classes are a safe space where they can create and explore. In this unusual school year, providing these opportunities remains a priority for the elementary schools in RSU14.

“The value of art in challenging times is especially important,” said Manchester School Principal Danielle Donnini. “When planning our return to school this September we never considered not providing access to the arts and physical education for our students. We quickly began to plan for how we could bring art to our students with all the CDC guidelines in place and focused on providing materials so each child could have the art supplies needed to reduce sharing.”

Other school administrators agree. 

“Art can be a passion and outlet for some of our learners,” said Windham Primary School Principal Dr. Kyle Rhoads. “We can’t always predict what kids are going to latch on to and have a passion for,” he said, so providing opportunities that allow that passion to grow is important. “Art is something they can be involved in their whole lives.”

With so many things happening that can cause a child to disengage from school right now, he said, it’s important to provide as many opportunities as possible for the types of learning that may keep them more engaged.

Kids are bringing a lot of anxiety and worry to school in these uncertain times said Raymond Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Peavey. Art classes are a calm, peaceful setting where students can set that aside and be creative, she said.

“Artistic exploration and creating offer a positive outlet for children, some of whom are experiencing
significant stressors since COVID disrupted schools, families and the economy last spring,” Donnini said.
Our art classes this fall have helped our students to feel connected to the school community as they collaborate on projects that support our whole-school culture and identity,” she added.

With the hybrid model and CDC guidelines, there have been some big changes and challenges for art teachers, which administrators say they are handling well.

Rhoads said teachers are doing a great job keeping things as normal as possible, while knowing they need to operate differently due to the guidelines.

One of the challenges, Peavey said, is teaching while staying physically distant.

Typically, the teacher would be close to students helping them through their challenges, but because they need to stay distant as much as possible, children need to use verbal communication a lot more, Peavey said.

Julie Clark teaches art at the Manchester School, as well as two classes at WPS. Space issues at Manchester do not allow for classes to be held in the art room. Instead, she takes an “art cart” to the student’s classrooms.

This changes my curriculum quite a bit as many of our art projects in the art room encouraged collaboration between students, shared materials, as well as providing enough space to work on larger projects,” she said.

Another big change for all the elementary schools is that art classes are rotating in six-week blocks between two groups of students. Typically, students have art class once a week all year long, so this is a significant reduction in the time they have in class.

Both not having students in class for a full year and the inability to share materials due to COVID guidelines, are big challenges, Clark said.

“It greatly limits their experiences with a wide variety of art materials and the depth in which I can teach a project. I have less time to teach and they have less time to create.”

To address the diminished time that students have in class, teachers have also recorded video lessons that both remote only and hybrid students can access, Rhoads said.

Remote students also received art kits at the beginning of the year so they would have the materials
they needed at home to create, Clark said.

Rhoads said he is excited that they’ve been able to continue their annual Silver Graphics fundraiser, which puts student artwork on products like mugs, pillows, and this year even masks. The limited amount of art that children are currently producing at school created a challenge, he said, but the company sent directions for families to do it from home. WPS art teacher Jennifer Vasiliauskas also created a step-by-step video lesson of a project for students to complete and families can upload.

An electronic flyer will go out to families about this fundraiser, Rhoads said, and the store will open this week.

Even with all the challenges, Clark said, students have stepped up and adapted to the new expectations and changes.

They are amazing, and I have been so impressed by their attitudes and efforts to make the best out of this situation,” she said.

Art classes continued even at the beginning of the pandemic last spring. Art teachers, like classroom teachers, had to quickly adapt to new technologies available to reach out to their students, Clark said.

We created engaging projects that students could do at home with limited supplies and provided digital resources for them to explore more if they chose. This has been a learning curve, but I feel like it has prepared us for a variety of situations that might arise for learning and creating in the future,” she said. <

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