We can all agree that teaching in a pandemic has presented challenges, pushed our creative boundaries, and reframed how we connect with students. As my District returned to face to face instruction in January, I started brainstorming how I can support the emotional, creative, and learning needs of my students while maintaining a safe and clean art room.
In addition to working in a global pandemic this year, I made the choice to transition to a new school. Let’s compound the elements, shall wel. Having worked with my previous school for three years, I knew the students and the creative aptitude of teaching online and face to face. But thinking about a new school, new students, new parents, a new art room, a new administrative team all layered with “new” being a school built in 1963! This added to my anxiety of how to best maximize learning.
During the summer and fall of 2020, I was able to sort and organize the art room while teaching fully online. Move my classroom, which was graciously boxed and stored in a friend’s basement, while getting a clear assessment of what supplies and tools existed in the space. This was important to see what needed to be purchased and what needed to be tossed. As art teachers, we all have a small pinch of hoarder. We acquire free leftovers of scrapbook paper, cotton balls, and marker caps, thinking “I will use this for a project, one day.” But no one teaches you in schools that “one day” is far and few between. Items get misplaced, thrown in plastic bags, and then allowed to grow mold for years to come. I am a firm believer in a clean and clear space is better for creative energy. Check out my before and after shots of the art room:
Through local school funds and Donors Choose, I was able to purchase items like paper cutters, technology equipment, and supportive textbooks to be the best online teacher. My students and I were able to connect over Zoom. I felt like I was the producer of the Sarah Erickson Art Show. Collecting fun interactive YouTube clips, sharing directed drawing lessons, listening to silly songs while dancing, and smiling online. I enjoyed learning about students’ likes and dislikes with daily check-ins, challenging their visual perception with nonverbal puzzles and games allowing us to build a foundation of trust.
Visual arts are a risky subject. Many approach creativity as they are either born with or without it. But like many things in life, it is a spectrum of talents in the creative arts, and I was starting at ground zero with my students. Being isolated for nearly 10 months in my home revealed how much I missed collaboration. We had our weekly staff meetings, monthly art teacher meetings, and of course daily interactions with students, but the shared learning and joy from working collaboratively in and through art was missing in my life.
My dog was a great collaborator and I would have endearing conversations with him, but he didn’t give me creative feedback like an artist. As January quickly approached, I wanted to collaborate! I began to search the Pinterest bookmarks for interactive projects between teachers and students. The results were nonexistent. I wanted to create projects with a shared safe production between artists. How could I share my creative talents to encourage and support the growing talents of my students? I devised three scaffold projects to develop artistry, confidence, and trust with my new community of learners.
First, we collaborated on a paper mural for the art room. I measured the space, sketched the words, assigned spaces, and then allowed students to explore lines with paint and sharpies. Upon completing the two-day line exploration, I headed to the laminator and then pieced the paper back together. This project was completed by our Kindergarten and 2nd Grade students. Check out the images below:
Being mindful that cleanliness was important. No cross-contamination of supplies. Handwashing before and after class. Additionally, I use a fogging machine at the end of each day. I feel like a true Ghost Buster. The pressure of clean spaces, students’ safety, all while trying to be creative, and create a nurturing and calm environment, trust me it has been a struggle.
Germs have dominated our life, so my first graders sought to explain organic shapes found within the human body. To collaborate with my small group of students, I thought I would lend my creative skills with some colorful portraits. They created the frame using sharpies and colored pencils, while I developed a line drawing and restricted my supplies to ones I could only find in my classroom. I think the colorful creations will be a memory both my students and I will treasure from the pandemic teaching experience.
My last challenge was connecting with a group of students, who were on their way out the doors to Middle school. If you have ever replaced a beloved teacher, building trust with the upper grades and this group of students proved no different. They were challenging me to flex my cooperation muscle. Having attended the NAEA Virtual Conference in March, I was inspired by an artist/teacher team that worked in an all-boys school in New York. They worked on temporary art installations with maximum visual impact for a low cost. From using giant stickers to exploring masking tape, my brain started spinning with possibilities with my own students. I asked them to take a post-it note and write words that describe themselves, the school, and art. After the brainstorming session, each student was encouraged to add two words of their choice to the tape mural. It was proudly displayed outside their classrooms and provided a great connection for the entire school.
Collaboration is an essential process to life and I am loving the relationships I am building with my new school and new students.
In the spirit of giving, let's support Atlanta Public School art teachers with their DonorChoose projects. We did this during back to school and nearly EVERY project was funded! Take advantage of the matching donation offers to maximize this day of giving!
Here are a list of teachers and links to their projects:
Carol Washburn (Usher ES)
Liz Sullivan (Mary Lin ES) FUNDED
Sarah Erickson (Peyton Forest ES) FUNDED
Martta Sareva (Hope Hill ES and Barack and Michelle Obama Academy) FUNDED
Nostacia Adams (Carver Early College)
Brina Hargro (Grady High School) FUNDED
With my 16th year of teaching being altered by the pandemic, I am still just as eager and excited to see my students. This year is unique. One for the history books. From bitmoji classroom boom to the Brady Bunch style instruction of Zoom. We are charting new terrain.
Whether your school has opted to return or maintain virtual instruction, our classrooms still look very different. Students are expected to have their own equipment and supplies to reduce transmission rates. Teachers are feverishly purchasing items from the dollar sections of major department stores to assist in packing bags for students with tools needed for at home virtual learning. To agree or disagree with how to return is not the point of this blog post. The point is to rally around the kids. Our students need us more than ever. They need comfort, support, and guidance from the adults on the other side of their screens. Just as we all do.
I have had the opportunity this year to transition to a new school. I am beyond excited to work for the community of Peyton Forest and have started digging into the planning and organization of my new virtual art room. However without a physical art room filled with students, paint spills, and controlled chaos, what will happen to arts instruction?
Teachers and administrators are having to reframe what teaching virtually looks like, sounds like, and feels like. I am excited about the possibility of non-profit organizations here in Atlanta to get supplies and art materials to students, but we are still in need! Students need access to art tools and equipment! Will you help? I have taught thousands of kids and if each student in my career gave just twelve cents...that’s right $0.12, I could fulfill an adequate supply list for my budding students!
Art has been my comfort. When students ask me, “When did you know you were good at art?” I recall a memory from my mom describing my intensity to illustrate flash cards for my homework. It was my way to process things that were difficult. Reading was a difficult task, but I learned how my brain worked best with visual thinking strategies and drawing images! We need art more than ever! Kids need to learn through art, so they can make sense of this surreal world we are living in.
This Tuesday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering with DonorsChoose to support schools! With the back to school energy waning and waxing in the face of coronavirus, reach out to local schools and support their projects to bridge the gap between home and school while we are apart.
I am hopeful that 100% of the projects for Atlanta Public Schools will be funded on this amazing Giving Tuesday. Here is a list of some of my colleagues who are working tirelessly to meet the needs of their communities. Consider supporting them:
Holly Seddon (Sutton Middle School)
FUNDED Lana Ensmann (Maynard Jackson High School) FUNDED
FUNDED Martta Sareva (Hope Hill Elementary School) FUNDED
FUNDED Courtney Flynn (Garden Hills Elementary) FUNDED
FUNDED Kim Muhlheim (Springdale Park Elementary) FUNDED
FUNDED Sarah Erickson (Peyton Forest Elementary) FUNDED
Carol Washburn (Usher Elementary)
Nostacia Adams (Carver Early College High School)
It has been a magical three years as the art teacher of Garden Hills, but it is time for me to move on the Forest. I hope the community, students, parents, and teachers of the Hills understand the difficulty in my choice to leave. An opportunity to work with Principal Cynthia Gunner presented itself in late April and I couldn't resist.
While scrolling my twitter feed back in 2018, I was introduced to Peyton Forest with an article in the New York Times magazine. Click here to read the article. After reading the article, I was inspired by Gunner's dedication to building a positive learning community, her realistic approach to school planning, and her love for her students. It was never on my radar to leave the Hills, but I had a chance of working with Peyton Forest through my art leadership role with Dr. Womack, the coordinator of Fine Arts for Atlanta Public Schools. Through mentoring and classroom observations, I found myself sitting across from Principal Gunner. We chatted and discussed the importance of art education and how it can empower students and just over her shoulder was the reproduction of Henry O. Tanner's "The Banjo Lesson". The article from the New York Times had been intriguing and now her choice of office art planted a seed of wonder. You haven't seen the painting I just mentioned? Click the link to see a video about the work.
But leaving would mean stepping away from the loving creative community of Garden Hills. Garden Hill's is a historic community with the legacy stretching back to 1938. The architecture screams history and I was proud to be a part of the history! Three years ago, I had an opportunity to sit before an interview panel leading to a sample lesson with a team of 2nd graders (now 5th grade students) and I walked away with the job! Garden Hills is a highly competitive position and it was like striking gold. Also, I had personal connections with friends having worked at the school in the past, both of which have moved into leadership roles within Atlanta and international. I was choosing to step away from a remarkable place, an art oasis, a community hyper-focused on student support....what was I supposed to do?!?
I truly believe teaching is a calling. My calling to art education was cemented firmly when I explored how art changes communities in an introductory sculpture class which ended with my art being thrown in a dumpster. A story for another day! That class, that art project, and that dumpster affirmed my belief: art speaks volumes and I need to be a part of that world! (Little Mermaid reference *click here for the song.)
Fifteen years ago, I left the University of West Georgia with the naive plan to stay at one school for my entire teaching career. On average teachers stay for less than five years and I was determined to stay thirty in one place! I wish that was the case! Staying at one school would have saved me muscle aches from packing and toting boxes and would have saved me tears rolling down my cheeks. Leaving a school for me is NEVER easy! Half way through my career and I am leaving for my fifth school. My track record has been: Liberty Point, Alcova, Five Forks, Garden Hills, and now Peyton Forest. My forever home is education and sometimes you get a calling like in "The Banjo Lesson" to share your knowledge with someone else, a different generation, or in my case a different school.
Thank you to the community of Garden Hills for allowing me three amazing years with your children and hello to Peyton Forest, I am excited to share my love for art with you!
Check out some of my favorite pictures from digital learning and from my three years at the Hills.
As school districts across the nation make proactive decisions to close schools to limit the spread of CORVID-19, teachers are planning, organizing, and beginning to take learning on to a digital platform. It can feel stressful and overwhelming to take curriculum, especially ART classrooms, online. There are so many resources and don't feel like you are alone. Reach out on social media, direct message a new friend, and use Google Meet to schedule face time with fellow teachers!
As a middle grade teacher several years ago, my former district was super proactive and forward-thinking with an implementation of eClass, an online class module, which has now developed into a more streamline format with Google Classroom. Google Classroom has so many features that make learning fun! From group projects where students can interact with each other to fun extensions with Chrome! My favorite extension is SCREENCASTIFY! CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO!!!
However, you communicate with your students it is each to push out fun creative lessons! Here are a few resources that have been shared through social media.
In my school, I am required to post a Google doc with provided links to lessons. Again, we use Seesaw for communication and student interaction. From sorting shapes to digital sketching, my students will have an opportunity to digital media for their weekly art lesson.
Lastly to combat stress, I encourage you to stick to a schedule. I have received several text from concerned parents and I understand this is an unusual set of circumstances, but stick to a time table! I have seen this schedule online EVERYWHERE. I know I plan to keep a schedule to rock my digital work and I hope you do the same!
I am eager to begin my 15th year of teaching! It feels like yesterday, I walked into my first room at Liberty Point Elementary in Union City. With a few extra gray hairs, I feel my zeal and passion for art education still strongly lives in my heart and is shown on my smiling face. I am so fortunate to live and work with Atlanta Public School in the Garden Hills community. With a growing student population and a strong school family, I am able to fully fund projects that highlight my passion for cross-curricular lessons while maintaining a high quality of materials and student products. In my short two years with Garden Hills, I have had 11 projects funded with the help of DonorsChoose. It is an awesome non-profit organization that connects funders with educators. Teachers write a school narrative, describe the materials and tools needed, and in return the financial donors receive thank you notes from the teacher and students. I have two projects currently receiving matching donations, so please consider contributing to my community of artists to prepare us for a successful 2019-2020 school year!
Summer is quickly approaching and parents want to extend art learning into the summer! Here are my top picks for art camps!
Did you know we have a modern museum in Atlanta! They are remarkable and develop lessons that support the popular STEAM curriculum seen in many public schools. This combination of art with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics allows students to explore connections and create cool art. Check out their web page for times, prices, and weekly themes.
Just around the corner in West Midtown, an art camp that encourages students to change the world might be the summer camp for your students. Check out the flyer for more information about the Draw Change Art Camp. CLICK HERE for flyer!
With programs that extended from five years to fifteen years old, Zone of Light studio might been the needs of your artist from kindergarten to High School. They have daily drop-ins, weekly discounts, and awesome themed weeks with NO repeated projects. Check out the website for more details:
For your advanced students with a drawing foundation, check out these classes from the Chastain Art Center. On the first page of the PDF, the summer camp highlights the cost and dates. This will fill up fast, so call to see availability.
AND don't forget, Atlanta Public Schools offers a FREE POWER UP CAMP for all students in rising 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. Check out the details https://www.atlantapublicschools.us/powerup
This afternoon, I had the honor of being invited to the 5th Annual Education Luncheon to celebrate the artistic partnerships through the Woodruff Arts Center and Atlanta Public Schools. As I listened to the positive impact with just ONE art-rich experience for at-risk students, I began to reflect on my first student tour of the High Museum.
There was magic at Alcova Elementary. The school was a perfect combination between eccentric teacher personalities and an energetic young community in Dacula, Georgia. It was the first school that captured my heart. I worked with them for seven years and NEVER taught the same project twice. We changed light blubs in the ceiling to create black art light, explored digital photography, and worked in collaborative groups to design surfboards. I wanted to change the students’ experiences and show them the fun of art! In my last year, I wanted to challenge myself! ArtAccess, a free program for Title I school to visit the High Museum became my next hurdle.
If you know anything about Gwinnett County Schools, they build MASSIVE schools! Alcova at my highest enrollment has nearly 1,300 students. So applying for the free museum trip proposed a logistical problem with each grade level having more than the two hundred-student cap. I filled out two separate applications for half of my second grade team one day and then the other half the following day. I made color-coded nametags and divided students into groups with teachers and chaperons. I designed a shirt for our students to be identical for safety. I created an activity extension mini-sketchbook, so students could connect their learning to social studies and writing. I scheduled buses, organized lunches, and was NERVOUS about taking 235 students to Atlanta, nearly 27 miles away from home!!! The first day arrived and with a small bus delay, we missed our check-in by thirty minutes, but the staff was amazing. The kids were set-up with individual guided tours and lunch on the lawn. And day two was smooth sailing!
Looking back on the stress of this field trip was nothing compared to the smiles from our two-day journey! Allowing my students to see a slice of art life outside of the art room of Alcova Elementary was remarkable as an observer. The smiles, laughter, and sleeping children on the way home, STILL warms my heart today! These amazingly creative students would be in 7th grade and I hope they remember the awesome adventure to the High as Alcova "Goes West"!
Art is a powerful medium! I was so grateful to hear powerful woman like Dr. Meria Carstarphen and Ann Cramer attest the power of arts have on the heart! And so fortunate, I get a first hand view in my classroom everyday!!! Thank you the Woodruff Arts Center for being partners in art education and supporting me and my students during my 14 year career!
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