Art classes are back!

Ryan Taylor stood in the front of the room talking excitedly about M.C. Escher, tessellations (an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together, especially of polygons in a repeated pattern without gaps or overlapping), and positive and negative space. Students listened attentively, occasionally commenting. He then explained what he wanted them to do, demonstrating by doing it himself as they watched on the new electronic board.

Taylor explained to me privately that he’s only been in the classroom three weeks. When the system couldn’t find an art teacher, he threw his hat in the ring. They told him to pass the GACE, the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators, and the job was his, but he had to pass first. He did and moved smoothly into his new classroom. He went to SCAD and majored in sound design, for which he’d received a scholarship. He wanted to be a music producer but found most musicians to live in poverty. After marrying his wife Kandiss, he went back for an education degree so all their holidays would be the same. He’s been teaching engineering and audio-video at the high school for several years, but he really wanted to try his hand at teaching art. Everybody must take a core of art, no matter the major. Now he’s doing just that and is happy about it, but he hopes they can find a technology teacher soon. He enjoyed that area, but teaching art was too big a temptation for him. He couldn’t resist.

The class’s first project was in black and white because they started with pencil and then moved to charcoal. Next, they’ll move to color and pastels and eventually get to paint.

“It gets messier with each step,” he laughed. “Right now, I’m trying to break them from drawing cartoons.”

His eighteen students in the class were working steadily on the day’s project. One young lady said, “Thank goodness for this class and just in time too. I’m a senior and I’m trying to get into SCAD. This class should help me a lot.”

Another student finds the class relaxing.

Out at the middle school, Shona Pate is teaching art. She too has been in the system for quite a while but in special education and music. She too dreamed about teaching art. She had applied here in 2008 for the art position, but in 2009, Superintendent Gene Herndon and the school board removed art classes from the curriculum at Appling County High School and Appling County Middle School. This year, Superintendent Scarlett Copeland and the current school board added art back, to the delight of many people in the county, Shona among them.

“So many people can’t see the value of art in school,” Pate said, “but it teaches kids to communicate in ways other than words. It teaches spatial awareness and how to express ideas spatially.”

One class per grade—6, 7, and 8—exists in the middle school now. I watched as students worked on a pop art project. They had cut pictures of celebrities from magazines, folded them, and cut them so the two halves matched. They then cut off one side and redrew it by hand. I saw faces of Obama, George Clooney, Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Phil, and many more. Their works amazed me.

Pate, who taught STEAM classes also, was instrumental in earning a $10,000 grant from the state department of education for the school. She is collaborating with the community and other teachers to make art a real-world experience for the students. With the grant money, she bought a silk-screening press, a poster maker, a vinyl cutter, and a hat press. With that equipment her students will be able to make tee-shirts, hats, stickers with logos and a variety of posters. Her eighth-grade class will be in business next nine weeks, where they’ll be using their English skills, math skills, and communication skills to design a product that people will like and will buy. They can use their profit to buy more supplies for the classroom. They did a tour of Gardner Printing to see how they do their signs. Pate is also collaborating with Michael Odum at Southern Graphics.