Art teachers are by nature creative, but with the COVID-19 pandemic they have had to get even more creative than usual to keep electives going strong in 2020. In Greene County, flexibility is the name of the game.
At Nathanael Greene Elementary School (NGES) this fall, both Lindsay Pace (music teacher) and Patricia Carroll (art teacher) gave up their classrooms and are now teaching in a mobile format while sharing a trailer.
“Both Lindsay and I lost our rooms so they could be utilized as classrooms with social distancing requirements,” Carroll said. “The best part is that [we] now share a trailer together and can easily bounce ideas off each other.”
Specials teachers have not let circumstances get them down, and they are bringing music and art to the students in both virtual and in-person arenas. Carroll is teaching “art on a cart” and travels from class to class with portable art supplies while her colleague teaches music both in person and virtually.
“I made a lightweight easel that I travel with and this makes it easier to demonstrate,” Carroll said. “The students need the arts and are so excited when they see us coming.”
So far, Carroll has been pleased by the engagement with art classes at NGES and thanks administrators for recognizing the importance of electives for social-emotional learning.
“We were thrilled that Greene County recognized the importance of the arts in their curriculum; I cannot imagine kids this age not having art and music,” she said. “This has actually been a great school year (so far); we are exhausted by the end of the day, but we have smaller class sizes and are able to get more done.”
Elizabeth Rodriguez is teaching art in person for kindergarten through fourth-grade students at Ruckersville Elementary School (RES) and also providing online lessons for kindergarten through fifth grade virtual students from RES as well as Nathanael Greene Primary and Elementary schools. This means she is teaching approximately the same number of students as in a typical year, just in many more small classes.
“Because our homeroom classes at RES are split into two rooms, I am alternating between being in classrooms and providing additional art activities for times when I am teaching the other half of the class,” Rodriguez said. “I am not able to bring students into my art room due to spacing and the fact that we are trying to keep students from traveling around the building too much (so) I have created a cart/easel contraption for going from room to room. It has been a challenge getting used to so many different classroom set-ups, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.”
All virtual elementary students received a basic at-home art kit with crayons, pencils, glue, scissors and rulers when they picked up their supplies for school in late August.
“All the lessons I’m planning virtually can be done using only those supplies and other household items [such as] magazines or collage objects, or they can complete them using Google Draw or our online platform Seesaw,” Rodriguez said.
First-grade students, both virtual and in person, created dots for “International Dot Day” in honor of the children’s books by Peter H. Reynolds (thedotclub.org/dotday). In kindergarten and second grade, students are exploring color mixing. Fourth-graders are learning about abstract art and creating abstract portraits.
“All of the projects are ones I know are very engaging and high-success,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to start the year off, especially after so much time away, with projects that will get the students really excited about art this year and also give them some chance for self-expression.”
Rodriguez adamantly voiced her support of offering art and other electives to students in both the in-person and virtual models this year.
“Last year when we were all-virtual in the spring, I had several students create art projects that were specifically addressing their feelings about the pandemic and the sudden switch to online learning,” she said. “This really opened up a channel for me to talk to the kids and I think it was a really meaningful way for some of the students to process it. I know as we are facing this totally new situation in the schools, there are some students who can really benefit from having a creative outlet.”
In addition to having an outlet for feelings about the major life changes this year, Rodriguez believes art class is an important way to help kids create meaningful connections to their other content areas.
“For example, my fourth-graders will be starting a sci-fi drawing and animation unit in October that reinforces what they are learning about the solar system,” she said. “The arts are also incredibly important at this time because they can be a window to other cultures and help students learn about other perspectives.”
Rodriguez is hoping to host a digital art show in the spring, once she has a chance to settle into the new routine.
At William Monroe High School, Jennifer Tremblay is teaching blended courses as well as an all-virtual art history class. She reiterates the need for flexibility in planning projects for her students due to the variable nature of the learning environment this year.
“I’m still teaching all the same classes, but really having to think about designing projects that can be taken home at a moment’s notice,” Tremblay said. “Since my students are blended and we’ve had more health issues, everything has to be designed to either be sent home, done in a short period of time or to be able to be worked on completely outside the classroom environment. We’re doing a lot of drawing, watercolor and pen work.”
In addition to teaching the blended students during their two days in person and preparing projects to be worked on at home, Tremblay has encouraged students to get involved in several fun group activities this fall.
“Usually my intermediate, advanced and a handful of beginner students will try to do the Inktober drawing challenge,” she said. Inktober is a month-long art challenge created by artist Jake Parker that is focused on improving skill and developing positive drawing habits through daily drawing prompts and then sharing the creations online. The prompts are available at inktober.com for anyone interested in participating; it’s not limited to students.
“We’re also still running the National Art Honors Society, and I’m hoping to have some Zoom guest speakers if I can manage it,” Tremblay said. “My photography class is doing some alternative processes starting next week, and my AP kids are about to get started with their projects.”
As elective teachers continue to work hard to keep their courses running despite constant changes and the difficulties of planning hands-on activities for virtual learners, students and parents are grateful for continued opportunities for creativity.
“I think it’s a scary time to be an elective teacher, but I do feel like there is a lot of support for the arts in Greene and that our administration would fight hard to keep the arts here,” Rodriguez said.