I lost my Art Club

As an elementary art teacher, my days are packed, and I work around people all day. From the minute I get to my school at 7am, until I leave by 3 or 4pm I engage with other teachers, parents, administrators, and most of all, young people. I’ve been teaching elementary art at the same school for nearly twenty years, and for almost a decade I also begin the day as our school crossing guard, greeting students and parents who walk to school, and helping busses who need a break in the car line, to exit the parking lot. I see roughly 600 students a week – their classes visit my art room once a week, where we engage in creative activity for almost an hour at a time. We paint with watercolors, acrylics and tempera. We draw with pencils, crayons, and markers. We build with clay and cut and compose with colored construction paper, glue and scissors. For many kids, art class is their favorite part of the week, and a good number of them sign up for extra instruction through our PTA-sponsored Art Club. Every fall, winter, and spring I teach Art Club after school, in my art classroom, every season, six weeks per season, with three separate groups of 25 kids per week. Art Club has become the most popular PTA after-school program by far. When I began almost fifteen years ago, we started with six kids meeting up at a table in the school library. Unlike with regular instruction, in Art Club students aren’t graded on their work, and we get a lot more experimental, and messy even, using a lot of 3D media. This spring was to be my school’s biggest Art Club yet, completely filling up with 75 kids a week. The week before it was to begin was the week our school district made the sudden, but very wise decision to close our schools due to COVID-19. So many kids were looking forward to Art Club, as was their teacher, and just like that, it was over. The first week away from school was a difficult adjustment, and feelings of anxiety, loss, helplessness and confusion suddenly began to flood my mind. The PTA held out hope that we’d be back to school in time to squeeze the after-school programs into the final six weeks of the school year. Those hopes were quickly dashed as the reality of the virus kicked in and its impact began to spread like wildfire. As a result, in addition to school being cancelled for the remainder of the year, Art Club ceased to exist, resulting in a lot of sad and disappointed kids, who waited for a long time for the new sessions to begin. It also resulted in a huge financial loss for both myself and the school PTA. As a reasonable human being I never doubted for a second that closing the schools for the rest of the year was the right thing to do, and much greater losses are occurring that, for many people might even be too difficult to put to words right now. That said, I miss my job – greeting my students and parents in the morning, and waving at the smiling bus drivers. I miss teaching young people how to think creativity and develop a sense of wonder and empathy in class, and of course I miss Art Club. Recently I was reminded of how much I missed a particular project I do with my Art Clubbers. It happened while my wife and I were watching a show about designing tiny houses. I was amazed at the innovation involved in the creation of these small homes and immediately thought about a project where we build and assemble sculptural structures with wood scraps and wood glue. I thought about those kids who would someday grow up to be like those innovative people on my TV screen, and the many times the kids would exceed my expectations, creating structures that were physical testament to what young people are capable of doing when their imaginations are unlocked and free to wander. I was looking forward to this project more than any other, along with my students, but unfortunately the grim reality of our current situation had other plans.

Steve Loya

Location: Sterling, Virginia

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