By Janet Eastman
It was a mad scramble into the Abraham Lincoln Elementary gym in Medford on Tuesday night as kids, unaccustomed to seeing dividing walls across the basketball court, looked for their artwork among the 500 pieces on display.
At the schoolwide Art Show, an animated Emmett Stouder, in a red Spider-Man T-shirt, stood near one of the display walls.
The first-grader pointed to his freehand drawing of two bunnies and a giant carrot, and explained his coloring process to his parents and younger sisters.
All around him, other young art stars posed for photos in front of their chalk art, tempera paintings and construction-paper frogs with unfolding tongues, as kindergarten students on stage sang, “Polly wolly doodle all the day.” Older boys delivered fist bumps to friends in front of three-dimensional art of exaggerated hands and feet, titled “Totally Spaced Out Art.”
Girls walked hand-in-hand to see mosaic mandalas made of beans, macaroni and jewels, as well as the third-graders’ interpretation of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting.
Nearby were abstracts made from blowing drops of paint through straws.
“There is so much art,” exclaimed Delaney LaFon, 6, in a poodle pink tutu. “This is crazy.” She demonstrates her sentiment by circling her finger near her head. “Really, it’s crazy.” As fun as this is, the night wasn’t just for play.
The school’s first Art Show, says Principal Patti Frazier, represents efforts across the state in which schools, facing funding and time constraints to meet higher academic standards, are trying to integrate art into social studies, reading, science and math classes.
In the Medford School District, art is taught 40 minutes a week as part of a rotation with PE, music and computer lab time. Funding for art materials comes out of the general supplies budget. There is no money for an art teacher, so other teachers and parents volunteer their time.
Kindergarten teacher Julia Alpers instructs older students in art because she says it’s a way for children of all ages to learn.
“Art is therapeutic for the kids,” says Alpers, 33, who has a background in art education. “It helps build confidence and communication skills.” She especially sees its place in classrooms for students who have a visual learning style.
“We don’t all have the same way of thinking or learning,” she says. “Teachers can talk and kids can listen and even watch a film, but if they actually draw a scientific concept or whatever the class is, it sinks in.”
Superintendent Phil Long says that although the school district has preserved elementary music programs, schools are relying more on Parent-Teacher Organizations and booster clubs for arts-related activities, schoolwide art projects or artist-in-residence programs.
“These partnerships have strengthened art instruction as state funding has become tighter and more focused on core content in literacy and mathematics,” he says.
Ann and Dan Ebert, who have four children enrolled at Abraham Lincoln, offered to put on the Art Show with the help of the school’s Booster Club.
The Eberts, who own Central Art Supply in Medford, collected pieces of art that the children made at home. They smoothed out the wrinkles on the watercolors and spiral art, and added customized matting and mounting, then propped the pieces up on easels.
More than 200 adults attended the one-night Art Show, which makes Ann Ebert and other Booster Club members optimistic that they can apply for grants or funding and ask local businesses to support next year’s show.
“It’s a busy time of year with testing and sports and other things going on,” says Ebert, “but testing times are also a good time for children to use a different part of their brain.” Alpers agrees.
She sees art as an important part of her work as a teacher. As a visual learner, it was even more important when she was a student.
“When I was young,” she says, “art was the reason I went to school every day.”
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.