Art education program partners with local schools
JMU students get hands-on opportunities teaching art skills during art nights
By Jen Kulju
An art tradition
"Art nights have been going on at least as long as I've been here," says Martha Yankey, the art teacher at Elkton Elementary School for the past 10 years. Yankey, who graduated with an art degree and minor in education from JMU, made the initial contact with the founder and director of the Art Education Center, Kathy Schwartz.
According to Schwartz, "art nights" officially started at Spotswood Elementary in the fall of 2000. "We built upon the success of the first program and now sponsor at least one art night each semester at one of the area schools." Schwartz adds that Yankey is "one of our supervisors for practicum, and a very important part of our program."
'Art nights were designed to give JMU students practical, hands-on opportunities to share their art teaching skills with children and their families.'
Planting seeds of college
Between 100 and 150 children in kindergarten through fifth grade participated in the Elkton Elementary Art Night in late January. "Art night is usually very well attended," claims Yankey. And that attendance isn't just by students in grades K-5. "The three and four-year-old, younger siblings come to art night. They have fun and get involved, which helps them develop a favorable attitude toward school." Yankey also shares that many middle and high school students who loved art when they were at EES come back for art night because they want to "relive their olden days." Whatever the age, children have the opportunity to "interact with JMU art education students in a positive way," which Yankey believes may help to "plant the seeds" of college in young minds.
Nine art education students and one elementary education student from JMU were on hand for Elkton Elementary Art Night. Graduate student Sarah Brown facilitated the event. Brown graduated from JMU in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in studio art and a licensure in art education. She worked for several years as an elementary art teacher before returning to her alma mater in the fall of 2013 to pursue a master's degree in art education. Brown enjoys facilitating art nights, and stresses the importance of them. "We're here to develop relationships. Anytime you can get children excited about creating things, it's worth it."
JMU students met, talked and worked with children at various art "stations" throughout the evening. Allison Nickens, a junior art education student with a concentration in painting and drawing, drew caricatures while Sarah Florjancic, a studio art/art education major with a concentration in painting and drawing, helped with Valentine's Day crafts. Sophomore Megan Murdock, a graphic design major with a concentration in art education, worked with children to color and create "Humphrey the hamsters," an activity designed to tie in with a book they were reading at EES. Murdock appreciated the chance "to gain experience, but also to give back to the community."
'We're here to develop relationships. Anytime you can get children excited about creating things, it's worth it.'
Experience that "matters most"
Schwartz says art nights were "designed to give JMU students practical, hands-on opportunities to share their art teaching skills with children and their families." According to Brown, events like the Elkton Elementary Art Night are "really what matters most because JMU students get to see and practice how to conduct themselves as professionals, and to interact with the public, real art teachers, and children in local schools."
Other JMU students who participated in art night include Megan Hartsoe, Gwen Jones, Hannah Suh, Melissa Carter, Laura Mertins, Megan Barnes and Caleigh Balsamo. Elkton Elementary Art Night was sponsored by the school's PTA, who donates $500 for supplies every year.
The next art night takes place at Spotswood Elementary during the Harrisonburg City Public Schools Fine Arts Celebration at the end of April. It is called "Imagination Celebration," and JMU art education students will be on hand to work with children and families on artwork to take home.