Schools are Open, A Note from Beverly McCarthy

Schools are Open, A Note from Beverly McCarthy

I keep hearing “Schools are closed.” Actually, they are not.

Yes, students are not attending school in school buildings, but other than that, schools are open and busy. Many school buildings are functioning with a skeleton crew. Many schools still have someone answering the phone and have people in cleaning. There are also people in schools making and delivering breakfasts and lunches and some schools are supplying child care for essential workers. And, teachers are still working to educate your children, albeit in a different way.

Pre-K through Grade 8 teachers, as well as most high school teachers, are trained to educate groups of students in a traditional classroom setting and in person. Education suddenly looks very different from that, yet it’s not how we were trained.  We are trained to be in the classroom, interacting with students in person. You have probably guessed that I am a teacher. I am. 

I am the art teacher for Barnet School and work with students from Pre-K through Grade 8.

For many of us — teachers and students — this sudden switch to online learning has been a swift and steep learning curve, but we are all figuring it out. Luckily, teachers like to learn too. This new challenge reminds us to look at educating in a new way and makes us have to think creatively and outside of the classroom box. This is how innovation works: something exists then someone comes along and thinks about it in a new and different way then figures out how to improve upon it. I’m not saying online education is better than in the classroom; the classroom allows for spontaneous group collaboration, personal connections, immediate help and support, and real time feedback, and we really like to be with the students! In a time of need, we are adapting for our students and their families. 

For my first online-at-home art project, 6th-8th grade students were asked to read an article and watch a video about the artist Andrew Goldsworthy. Students were then asked to go outside and collect rocks, sticks, ice; basically, anything to create ephemeral art inspired by Goldsworthy’s work. Students were also asked to write a haiku either about Goldsworthy’s work or how his work connected to their own art work. You might wonder why students should spend time on a project like this? Well, I’m glad you asked. I have plenty of reasons (art teachers often do) —  to get students thinking in different ways, to have them try various materials and approaches in creating art, to experiment and explore, and to find meanings that emerge in the process of art making (all National Core Art Standards) and because students need to be able to do more than the “3Rs”. They also need to be able to problem solve, think creatively, be curious, take initiative, and be flexible and adaptable (all 21st Century Skills). But I need to be honest. Though all those reasons are valid and fulfill standards, the main reason I assigned it is because I wanted to give students something quiet and beautiful to think about in these crazy, mixed up days we are in. 

So, how did the students do with their first online-at-home art project? Beautifully. Some students got outside with younger siblings and built forts with found materials, some “played” in the mud, some took the time to perfectly balance the stone they noticed then pulled out of an icy, cold stream, and others enjoyed working quietly. Though students were only asked to write a haiku, some also wrote notes as well: “It was definitely a good way to get out of the house”, “very peaceful”, “...everyone kinda has a cloud over them with having to stay home most of the day and not seeing anyone, it's gloomy and easy to become sad. I think we need to remember to stay hopeful and know that this will pass.[sic]” 

I already miss being in the classroom and seeing the students, but I am learning to appreciate the “conversations” we can still have online; the conversations don’t get interrupted, they are quiet and peaceful. The students have already demonstrated they are adaptable and creative, they are willing to experiment, explore, and to “find meanings that emerge in the process of making art.” 

So instead of saying “Schools are closed” can we please rephrase it? Maybe “Schooling from home” or “Schools are Working.” (I think I’ll ask my students to come up with some ideas.)

With appreciation,

Beverly McCarthy