The closure of schools this spring has created an unprecedented challenge for teachers to overcome. Teachers were faced with daunting questions: How do we teach from afar? How do we connect with our students when we cannot connect? How do we ensure students know we care?
We have seen teachers not only rise to the challenge, but truly innovate during this time of need. To show our gratitude to teachers everywhere during Teacher Aprreciation Week, we have highlighted a few of the many creative projects happening in our communities:
Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, Thornton
At Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, art teacher Erica Wernsmann-Loppnow has been hard at work creating a whole menu of at-home art options for her students to choose. One particular project stood out for its focus on collaboration and altruistic intentions. The snail-mail activity was inspired in part by good old-fashioned '80s chain mail, a need to get creative with art supplies in students' homes, a desire to support the USPS, and a wish to show appreciation for essential workers.
Mini Snail-Kits are created by Erica using supplies found around her home. Students add onto another’s artwork using the supplies included in the envelope then send it back using a pre-addressed and stamped envelope. The project has challenged students to work within creative constraints. Some start with photos from their phone, drawings of cars or elaborate mixed media collages. Bits of fabric, hotel sewing kits, various types of paper, magazines and old books are all given new life through the project.
Once the artwork is complete, Erica and her students felt it was important to pay it forward and show gratitude by sending the artwork to local essential workers, including a local newscaster, a local waste management facility, the carniceria across the street from MESA, and care facility for older adults. By enabling this authentic sharing, student artists are taking time to be thoughtful about their process and the roles they play in the community.
Erica shared that she wants her students to use things around them so that they can learn firsthand that creativity does not require special materials. After 17 years of teaching everything from financial literacy, English, credit recovery, and art, she was surprised how remote teaching forced her to consider—what is essential learning? For Erica, is it all about being creative with what you have, and here at the Denver Art Museum we couldn’t agree more!
Quest Middle School 27J, Brighton
At Quest Middle School, art teacher Kelly Beach has been creating videos interviewing local artists as a resource for students at home, in addition to his online “art choice board" for art making prompts. Kelly always wanted to bring artists into the classroom, but with restrictions around bringing guests into a school building, it rarely happened. Distance learning presented a unique opportunity to connect students with working artists. No more red tape! Kelly wants his students to know that art can take place outside of the classroom too and you can make a living doing it.
Kelly had experience creating digital media but has learned a lot in a short amount of time making these videos for students. He has advice for other teachers wanting to create their own artist interview videos: “Provide questions in advance but remember you don’t need to stick to them, and most importantly, try not to take yourself too seriously.”
Kelly stays motivated during this time of remote learning by making connections with his students who are struggling to figure out this new normal. As a TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) art teacher, he believes, “It is important to create artists not art projects.” Central in this philosophy of art education is that students understand what artists do. What better way than to ask them directly?
McGlone Elementary, Denver
Paul Clifton, the Media Arts teacher at McGlone Elementary, started an artist-in-residency program last Spring which now requires a big pivot during remote learning and into the summer. The artists—Kate Scalf, Molina Speaks, FaTTraK and Anthony Cotton—are now each creating signature kits which will be available for free for Montbello youth to be used at home and/or paired with one-on-one mentoring and artist-led virtual classes. Kits are tailored to each artist’s process and practice. Materials may include art supplies, beat machines, phone camera filters, and speakers so youth can create collaboratively with the artists and share their work successfully.
The Quarantined Art Program strives to empower students to see themselves as artists and connect to the mental health needs of the community. Paul says, "There is a big focus on basic needs in the Montebello community but being able to express themselves, share their voice, and discuss how life has changed fills an important need too." The Quarantined Art Program is a platform to support one another through the arts!
As projects are completed Paul has teamed up with the Montbello Power Advocate’s Youth Advisory Board and Isaura Ibarra, a senior at Northfield High School, to determine how to best to share the effects of the project with the community. Once schools reopen, they hope to present an exhibition of work created this summer.
To learn more about The Quarantined Art Program and to donate, click here.