Arts encourage expression, even during pandemic

Maximus Rocha (left), a kindergartner at Moss-Nuckols Elementary School, paints a picture of his family during a free-paint session in Erin Ward’s (right) art class on Sept. 14.

Art classes, like just about every aspect of education, look different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Students aren’t sharing art supplies, they’re not as free to move around the room to get things and class sizes are smaller.

“Not seeing the kids as often is hard to get used to,” said Rebecca Massie, an art teacher at Louisa County High School. “We’re not able to do as much, but they’re all putting in effort. They’re all participating well in class.”

Since 2010, the second week of September has been designated National Art Education Week, and schools across the country are encouraged to highlight the impact that the arts can have on students. 

“[We] teach students that there’s no single answer to any problem, and they can figure out ways to overcome mistakes,” Massie said. “[Art] helps them develop fine motor skills and helps them see things in different ways.”

This is the first year that Louisa County Public Schools have used Art Education Week to highlight the arts, having focused on Youth Art Month in March in previous years. With the pandemic creating a different environment, the schools decided to come together to highlight what students are doing in art class.

“With the uncertainties of our lives this year it seems like a good opportunity to show that normal life is still going on in our classrooms,” Massie said.

Art isn’t just being taught in the classrooms this year. Louisa County High School art teacher Elizabeth McGinnis is teaching art virtually, which has led to some unique creations.

“The students have more free rein to choose the materials they use at home,” she said. “Some kids have created some really cool digital art. I’m seeing a lot of diversity.”

McGinnis has had to adapt to a new teaching platform for her classes, filming videos of herself demonstrating concepts to help students understand them, and staying in touch with them via email if they have questions. She says that it’s harder to teach art virtually than it is to teach it in the classroom, but that she and the students are rising to the occasion.

Even in the classroom, art class looks different. Erin Ward, who teaches art at Moss-Nuckols Elementary School, has had to come up with ways to fill class time and keep the students occupied while she’s cleaning brushes and other tools, since the students aren’t allowed to touch each other’s supplies. One way she’s done this is to have the students do breathing exercises while she cleans. The videos work with the art therapy model she is employing for her students this year.

It’s a model that she says the students have really responded to.

“Since so many of them haven’t had school since March, they’re excited to be expressive and paint,” she said. ”So many things have changed that I think it’s now more important [than ever] that they can really relax and let loose, and it’s kind of cathartic for them to express themselves creatively.”

In Ward’s opinion, there’s never been a more important time to celebrate Art Education Week.

“It’s a time to celebrate all that art programs – and music and theater, all these expressive programs – can do for kids,” she said.

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