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At Olympus Junior, Art after Hours Explores Creativity Outside the Classroom

Dec 07, 2015 03:34PM ● Published by Stephanie Lauritzen

By Stephanie Lauritzen

Cottonwood-Holladay - Olympus Jr. High art teacher Kaitlin Baer wanted to create a new type of student art studio - one where artistic ability flourished outside the pressure of formal grades and curriculum requirements.  Her solution, the Art after Hours Program, allows students from Olympus High, Evergreen Jr. High and Olympus Jr. High to meet after school for free art instruction and lots of creativity. 

“I wanted to give students the opportunity to make art without getting graded,” Baer said. “Art after Hours creates an opportunity for less-structured creativity. We provide all sorts of different supplies, and we let students see what art can be like in a studio setting.” 

On Nov. 10, students from all three schools came to Olympus Jr. to learn more about bookmaking, pottery and oil painting. Local artist Robert McKay volunteered to help students practice painting portraits in oil paint, using a live model to teach about light and composition. Baer was grateful for McKay’s willingness to help students learn more about art, because “it’s important for students interested in pursuing art as a career to interact with a working artist.”

While Art after Hours certainly benefits students interested in an art career, Baer is quick to emphasize that the program is for all students, even those not currently enrolled in art classes, or planning to study art after high school. She notes that increased curriculum demands and dwindling resources for arts-based electives can make it hard for students to explore creative pursuits. 

“Even in the art classes themselves, teachers are required to teach to a set curriculum. We do follow the curriculum, and it is important, but there is a big need for students who want to learn more, or who don’t have time in their academic schedule, to get a chance to experience an important part of education,” Baer said. 

Baer believes studying art adds value to all aspects of a student’s education. “Learning how to express yourself with art is a form of problem-solving, and the ability to find new solutions to various problems is a part of every job field.” 

While many schools are increasing their efforts to teach S.T.E.M skills (science, technology, education, and math), Baer says her fellow art teachers wish parents and educators would consider the value of S.T.E.A.M skills, including art as part of the teaching equation when preparing students for jobs requiring innovative thought. 

“All of those subjects traditionally included in the S.T.E.M acronym are about more than memorizing equations.  Creativity is important. Developing artistic ability can help students transition those creative-thinking skills to any other job, and any other subject,” she said.

In order to recognize students participating in the program, Baer ensures that their artwork is displayed in the halls at Olympus Jr. She believes it is important for the community to see student achievements that would otherwise be limited to the walls of her classroom. In her goal to expand the Art after Hours program, Baer also plans to open the student art studio to the community so parents and school faculty to see student accomplishments. 

“This is the first year of our program, and so far we have had a great turnout from students, but we really want the rest of the community to be involved. We’ve only hosted the event a few times, but we want to make art a staple in our community,” she said.   

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