Beneath The Storm

All this talk lately about outcomes and indicators and the big F – Funding; it seems like so much wind over the heads of our students. I keep wondering what the kids themselves might say about having art classes in school.

So I visited the classroom of Julie Trout, recipient of one of Washington State’s Regional Teachers of the Year Awards for 2012. Julie also is serving on the Wallace Foundation Arts Learning Initiative Planning Grant committee for Seattle Public Schools.

Julie is passionate, creative, inspiring, talented, visionary and dedicated, and she currently teaches visual arts at Gatewood Elementary to nearly 500 students a week in a portable with no running water. Someone should also give her a Most Resourceful Teacher of the Year award.

Julie views art as the “connector” – between schools and their communities; between students and their schools; between the heart the brain; between different curricula – and in this art has value. It is not a luxury. It is not play time. It is not spare time. It is not wasted time. It is a vital part of growing and learning.

You can see evidence of this in the students’ words below; there is a strong emotional component to having arts instruction during school hours. As Julie said, “things come out in art … feelings and situations that people might not know anything about.”

I spoke with some of Julie’s first, fourth, and fifth grade students. I asked them what they thought about art, if they liked having an art class (none of them have had art at Gatewood until this year), and how they felt when they made art. Here is what her students had to say (I’ve changed the names and left out some of the “like…” interjections for the sake of readability).

Jacob, 5th grade – “Last year we didn’t have art…I really like it because now we get art once a week instead of three times a year… I just can’t wait for art and then after that time I just can’t wait until the next time we have art… I have something to look forward to at the end of the day instead of just doing the same thing for the whole day.”

Sarah, 5th grade – “I really like to do my own art, like make my own thing instead of being told to paint this or paint that or draw this and draw that… ’cause I like to paint freely … It makes me happy … Art’s awesome!”

Camille, 5th grade – “Yeah, It’s like my favorite subject. I feel more calm and I feel like I can express myself … it’s always hard to talk to my parents and stuff but then here I feel like I can just let stuff go. I feel better about the rest of the day.”

Kallid, 1st grade – “It’s fun and I like it and it’s great. It’s my favorite thing to do.”

Jonah, 5th grade – I think that it’s a good release, you know? ‘Cause I mean you have the day but now there’s art class and you can just create and that’s pretty fun…you can be creative and you’re not just answering questions on a sheet. So that’s pretty cool… It’s kind of peaceful you know? It’s just your time. I like that.”

Brandon, 1st grade – “It’s really entertaining and fun because once you get started drawing and making sculptures it really helps my skills and I really learn more and it actually helps me with math a little bit.”

Jamil, 5th grade – “I think art class is fun because whenever I come to art class I draw about my feelings … Art class is a good thing … I wish I had more art.”

Debbie, 5th grade – “It’s a really good way to calm down if I’m feeling frustrated.

Alder, 5th grade – “I really like having art … It makes me feel beautiful inside.”

Shawna, 5th grade – “Sometimes I feel like I don’t really wanna talk and I just wanna turn off my mind and just draw because it just can get really chaotic and it’s just nice to be out of the crowd.”

Colby, 4th grade – “I like expressing myself through art…I feel free, happy… it sort of puts a kick in my step…it just kind of brightens up my day.”

Caitlin, 1st grade – “Whenever you mess up you can just do something else.”

Urdu, 5th grade – “I am very, very proud of my art.”

There was one boy I would have liked to hear from, but he didn’t want to talk to me: At some point during all three of my visits, the same child came into the classroom with an Instructional Assistant and sat at a table in the back corner quietly and intently creating small paper sculptures. Julie told me that in other classrooms he sometimes becomes violent and runs away. He has never acted out in any of Julie’s classes.

And if you doubted the value of the arts in these students’ lives, look at these two drawings made by one of Julie’s other first graders:

I think these sum it up beautifully. Don’t you?

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