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Board makes investment in new elementary art program

POSTED: September 12, 2008 5:01 a.m.
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A South Effingham Elementary student in Paul Petit's art class listens intently as his teacher explains lines, shapes and forms.

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine the value of an art education program.

With the start of a new school year, the Effingham County Board of Education believes its investment in hiring eight elementary art teachers will benefit students academically as well as personally.

“It’s important to give children the opportunity to be creative and develop their unique talents,” explained James Dasher, school board chairman. “The board has realized the value of offering elementary art classes for a long time, but having the dollars to fund the program has been the deciding factor.”

This past spring, the board decided it was finally feasible to fund the salaries for art teachers and, therefore, approved Superintendent Shearouse’s recommendation to offer elementary art classes for the same number of days that the schools offer music classes, which is once a week.

Each art teacher is certified in art education and is required to teach according to the Georgia Department of Education’s state standards, which are based on the national standards. For example, in kindergarten students will develop critical analysis and aesthetic understanding by learning to recognize and name shapes, such as circles, squares, rectangles, triangles and organic (free form). In fifth grade, students will connect history with art by researching historical events and using them as sources of ideas for artwork. In many cases, art lessons will coincide with the academic subject matter being taught in the regular classroom.

According to Heather Light, Rincon Elementary’s art teacher, the art curriculum and regular education curriculum go hand in hand. Science, literature and history, for example, are incorporated in some way in almost every art lesson. Light said she will often read a book to the class before starting a new art project and then discuss how the story relates to what the students are doing.

In addition to reinforcing what students are learning in the regular classroom, added Light, art provides a tactile, creative outlet for children. According to the first year art teacher, a student who might have trouble sitting still and paying attention during a history lesson won’t exhibit any behavior problems in her classroom because of the unique opportunity for visual self-expression that art offers all children.

Like it or not, explained Light, we are part of a visual culture where children are bombarded daily by thousands of images on TV, video games, Web sites, etc. Art education and the analytical skills it promotes helps equip children to interpret what they are seeing and experiencing.

The first-year teacher believes art education also teaches children how to “think outside the box” and helps develop important problem solving skills. Like the school system’s seven other elementary art teachers, Light is excited about the new program that will expose students in kindergarten through fifth grade to the hands-on world of artistic expression.

According to the National Standards for Arts Education (NSAE), art education provides an avenue to “develop attitudes, characteristics and intellectual skills required to participate effectively in today’s society and economy.” It also fosters the thinking skills and creativity valued in today’s workplace.

While each art teacher is required to address the state standards in their lessons, they can choose the media (paint, clay, paper mache, etc.) that they prefer to use. After only one week of school, Light has discovered that her students love to work with modeling clay. They are also eager to paint, she added.

“The kids really want to learn everything,” explained Light, who is waiting to get a sink in her classroom before she tackles painting.

Thanks to a generous donation of supplies from Speedball Art Co., Light plans to teach print making with her older students. This technique of inking and etching is normally taught at the middle and high school level but Light is excited about introducing it to her students.

With the help of a professional company that mats and displays the students’ art work at no charge to the schools, the Rincon Elementary teacher is planning to hold an art show at some point during the year and will display her students’ print making projects. Parents and family members will have the opportunity to purchase their student’s original framed art work. (Each elementary school will have the opportunity to hold an art show but it is an optional activity.)

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