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The City Journals

Art educator paints a picture of what adapting to classroom safety measures looks like

Oct 05, 2020 03:20PM ● By Jet Burnham

Students display their art on the school website when they can’t be in school. (Photos courtesy of Rachel Henderson.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Art educator Rachel Henderson had to purchase individual supplies for every student at Westvale Elementary School this year.

“Because of COVID, we couldn't have the bin of markers so every student needed their own,” she said. “Everyone now has a set of watercolors and a set of markers so that we're not just using pencil and paper every day.”

School teachers found there were many supplies they don’t usually need that became necessary for adapting to this year’s COVID safety measures. For this reason, Jordan District teachers were allotted an extra $500 budget to buy or be reimbursed for purchased personal protective equipment or additional materials they needed. Some teachers purchased seat organizers and water bottle holders for students’ desks to avoid spreading germs at drinking fountains or communal coat racks. Many, like Henderson, purchased additional classroom supplies to avoid sharing among students.

In addition to eliminating shared art supplies, Henderson also adapted to classroom safety measures by taking her lessons into each classroom instead of having students come to the art room.

Henderson began making changes to the way she teaches her art classes this spring when students were learning from home. She created an online gallery for students to share their artwork.

“That was really good for kids to see,” she said. “They love to see their artwork displayed. It gives them a sense of pride.” Henderson continues to use the online gallery to display work produced by online students.

Adapting her classes to an online format forced Henderson to get creative with technology. She created YouTube art lessons that students could access from home, and she adapted the annual art show into a virtual event.

“We gave all of our parents access to a virtual show that I put on here in the school,” she said. “They couldn't come to it, but they were able to see all of the artwork that the whole school had to offer.” 

Henderson said there has been a lot of training to help art teachers adapt to a technology-dependent school year.

“Using technology lets us have another avenue that, instead of limiting us, we are letting us see where it could take us,” she said. “I know many artists that don't think of that, so it really has put an emphasis on that this year.”

Henderson has not spent the entire budget allotted to her by the Jordan Board of Education. 

“It is given to us throughout the year, so I have spent some, but I want to see where the year goes, what I have, what the kids' interests are,” she said. “Some projects come up out of talking with the kids, and it's nice to have that freedom of that funding the whole year long.”

Henderson believes students thrive when they have an opportunity to be creative.

“It's a very good outlet,” she said. “It lets them think outside the box. It's not a check-the-box kind of test-taking mode. It really lets them have their own voice and be creative during the day.” 

Westvale Elementary Principal April Gaydosh, who was previously an art teacher, said Henderson’s role is especially important this year, when students can benefit from a creative outlet to express and process their emotions when they are feeling stressed.

“She just brings a different feel to the school day, and kids look forward to seeing her,” Gaydosh said. “Art gives them an avenue to be successful and to express themselves in a different way.”