1. What is your education background and what do you currently teach?
I am a visual arts teacher for the North Syracuse Central School District. This year, I am teaching grades K-6 between Allen Road Elementary and Gillette Road Middle School.
My first degree was not for teaching. I attended The College of Saint Rose, in Albany, graduating with a BFA in graphic design. I soon started a career in the Graphic Arts, eventually becoming the art director for a textbook publication company. I enjoyed what I was doing but knew I should have gone into art education to become a teacher. I began taking night classes at Oswego University and started working towards my master’s of art teaching degree. The degree did not happen quickly. It took me 12 years! During that time, I freelanced, had children, and instructed in a painting studio. I was completing my degree right when our schools went virtual for the first time with the COVID-19 pandemic, making this my second year of teaching in the North Syracuse School Central District.
2. You recently worked on a community art project with students from Allen Road Elementary School. Can you explain the project?
Last year, there were many restrictions we were following, for example separate cohorts on separate days and eating lunch in the classrooms, while staying in your own plexiglass shield. Some students worked virtually the entire year, never stepping into the school. Entering school this year, I wanted to help students reunite with each other in the school setting. I thought a collaborative project that all students could be a part of, and located where all the students passed by, would be a great way to get them excited about being back in school and feeling like they belong.
I set up the project by creating an Allen Road Elementary School illustration on a central hallway wall, along with a ‘road’ that looped and extended down the hall. On the illustration I wrote, ‘We love Our Allen Road Community.’ I started the project by asking the students the reasons why they love the Allen Road community. We discussed what it meant to be a part of a community, what different kinds of communities there are, and what communities they were already a part of. After giving a quick demo for drawing a full body self-portrait with shapes, the students put their creativity to work designing their own self-portraits. The drawings were then cut out and prepared to be taped to a spot of their choosing somewhere on our hallway display. Some wanted to be flying above the school, coming out of the chimney, or riding our Allie the Alligator mascot that also made an appearance.
3. Was it easy to get the students to open up for this project?
I would say so. In discussing community, the students talked about sharing spaces throughout the school building, as well as places outside of school like parks and stores. Being respectful of others and taking care of the space you’re sharing were covered at every grade level, even the littles. Students conversed about what they don’t like seeing in community spaces, like litter or inappropriate words on a playground, but also how good it feels to be surrounded by friends, teammates, and people that care about you. Once creating, students continued chatting with each other about why they were including certain colors, words, and extra objects with their self-portraits.
4. What advice would you offer new art teachers entering the field?
Entering the field is a learning experience that continues and continues. I learn something new every day, whether it’s about myself, my students, how to handle situations, a different art technique, or another virtual program, there is always something to learn. Be flexible and stay positive. Both of these are pretty important for growing and strengthening lessons, as well as for building relationships with students and colleagues.
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