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With our imagination, we are able to use a piece of clay, or a piece of paper and some paint, to create something amazing. Visual arts have been used to capture and express a wide range of ideas embraced by others and can educate, persuade, and problem solve. They teach students about perspective, color, and layout. “Students can do more critical thinking because they’re making choices, they’re the ones in the driver seat – they are creating, problem finding, and then problem solving,” shared Tambrie Valdez, Art Teacher at Centennial Elementary School.
At Centennial Elementary School, Valdez uses Choice Based Art. “There are different centers set up in the classroom: drawing, collage, clay, or painting. I give them a demonstration at the beginning of class, then they choose their work center for the day. It brings me joy when I see my students enjoying art because they are learning how to express what is inside of them.”
Just like many of the other specials, the art room is a place where students can come in and be allowed to be themselves. “Teaching students in grades K-5, I get to see them develop their skills as they go through my class – I see their creativity. Their preferences might be one thing when they first start, and as they get older, I watch them develop those preferences and skills,” said Valdez. Art is important for student’s programming, it brings them joy and a natural process of critical thinking.
Research shows that when students participate in the arts, it can improve their academic and socioeconomic status, providing them with opportunities to learn critical thinking skills, building capacity for expression, and developing the skills they need to become successful in the 21st century. It is important for students to have a creative outlet while in school. “Creativity is so important in all aspects of life. In order to enter any job, you need to have the ability to be creative and school is a place to foster creativity,” shared Elizabeth Nicholson, Art Teacher at Westview Middle School.
For Nicholson, she knows first hand what it meant to have an art class available in school, “I knew I needed art when I was in school, it was the one class period where I was able to unwind and feel myself.” Art is a great way for students to do something they really enjoy while expressing their feelings.
One of the best parts about being an art teacher for Nicholson, “is seeing the ideas students come up with and watching them produce their final product. I love walking around my room and seeing how different each project is based on my students interests and backgrounds. Middle school students have fantastic ideas that come out in their pieces.”
Students learn what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to develop them. “One of the greatest things about our program is that we get to watch students grow – by the time they’re seniors, they are so much more confident, not only about their work but about themselves,” said Jennifer McClees, Visual Arts Teacher at Skyline High School.
The arts have a very positive impact on students’ lives and learning in different ways. “The arts have allowed me to share my ideas, thoughts, and feelings in a unique and special way,” shared Kinsey Kaczmarek, senior at Skyline High School.
For McLees, it’s a joy “seeing students blossom through their study of the arts by becoming more creative problem solvers, comfortable in taking risks, and generally finding an appreciation for mindful moments that help to create a balance in life. For those who are members of our Visual Performing Arts (VPA) program, I see students finding comfort and support within a like-minded community and also rising to the challenge of leadership within this community.”
“Visual Arts is unique compared to other programs in the district, students have the opportunity to work with different tools – we revamped our program with the focus to target our student’s interests more. We learned students had interest in jewelry and metals, so we made sure to add that choice for them,” said Amanda Giulini, STEM and VPA Coordinator at Skyline High School. “Teachers are constantly working together to propose new art classes to keep that student interest alive.”
Through the lens of the state’s standards, Skyline’s Visual Arts Department focuses student learning on developing the 8 Studio Habits of Mind that an artist would naturally develop on their own and in other community settings. “Many of the skills in developing these habits (Developing Craft, Envision, Expressing, Stretching and Exploring, Observing, Engaging and Persisting, Understanding Art Words, and Reflection) can easily be applied outside of the art making practices, and more specifically to the workforce,” shared McLees. “Learning to envision, for example, relates to developing one’s ability to come up with creative solutions (beyond the first thing that comes to mind) and can be applied to any sort of problem solving.”
In art making, students learn attention to detail through closely observing the world around them and how they respond to it, “this relates to things one might pay closer attention to in making or interpreting a piece of artwork or pulling in what one observes in life into their work,” shared McLees. “The practice of reflecting on one’s work is a set of skills that can be applied to any learning situation, whether it be in the workforce or general life experience.”
“Some students choose to take one class, while for others, art is what they really want to pursue with their lives. Teachers balance that and are able to use those high achieving students to motivate others – that is why it’s important that we have many options available for them, so they can have the opportunity to explore the many different forms of art – we want all students to benefit from the program,” shared Giulini.
For Skyline High School senior, Grace Bush, the arts “helped me throughout my time in high school by introducing me to the specific path I want to take later in life. Thanks to the incredibly supportive teachers and diverse art classes, I’ve found a major and minor for college I really feel reflects me and what I want to do with my life.”
Students are encouraged to enter contests and competitions, participate in special shows, attend digital and live workshops, interact with practicing artists and attend special off-campus opportunities, and field trips. At Westview Middle School, students have the opportunity to explore anything from Art, Ceramics, iPad Art, Digital Photography, and Graphic Art. “We have an Environmental Art STEM class that combines art and science,” shared Nicholson. “That’s the great thing about middle school is they have many opportunities to try different mediums, they are able to express themselves through visuals instead of talking.”