Lessons Learned from Sandpiper Elementary School

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“If we didn’t have Art in Action, we wouldn’t have art at all.” Nancy Murray, Kindergarten Teacher

For the past ten years all Kindergarten through fifth grade students at Sandpiper Elementary School in Redwood Shores, California have benefited from the Art in Action program. We recently spoke with Kindergarten Teacher Nancy Murray, Docent Josephine Pai, and School Coordinator Joana Araujo about their experiences and thoughts on arts education.

What does an arts education do for the students?
Josephine: Art education fosters the imagination, self expression, and creativity of a child. I deeply believe that there’s no right or wrong in art, only like or dislike which is just personal preference but should all be accepted.

Nancy: An arts education fosters creativity and confidence in a child. Because of how the lessons are taught (in steps), the students feel good about what they created. In the classroom they build community by encouraging and admiring each other’s work. Each month, by grade level, pieces go to our local library in Redwood Shores and to our District Office for showcasing in our community.

What do you like most about Art in Action?
Joana: This is volunteering at its best. We are in direct contact with the students and teachers. It is a great way to understand classroom routines and student behavior. Moreover, it is time spent with our children in a very creative and free way as there are no expectations regarding the final result.

Nancy: I like the fact that parents are teaching the lessons. It gives them a little glimpse of the school day. The docents are trained and come well prepared to teach the lesson. I like that art techniques and terms are used in the lessons.

Josephine: I always enjoy art. AIA program is well organized and planned based on age, maturity and school curriculum. AIA projects introduce various art media and concepts to students/parents/teachers in an easy way to that shows results. I also like that the program has flexibility for younger and older kids.

How do you overcome challenges?
Josephine: For me, the challenges are the first part of the lesson – talking about the artist, discussing/analyzing the artworks. For every lesson I teach, I prepare an animated powerpoint with supplemental images and notes to help me with the lesson.

Joana: Communication, communication and communication. It is hard to keep everybody on the same page, especially with the kindergarten volunteers who feel very lost in the beginning. We have a kick-off meeting, and I keep checking with new volunteers periodically to make sure they understand the whole process and to always feel they have someone available to help.

Nancy: Teaching demands have increased throughout the years and it’s nice to have some of the art teaching handled by others. I’m thankful we have a strong AIA commitment to ensure that our students are receiving a rich arts education.

Does Art in Action build school community?
Joana: Yes, it is absolutely the greatest program in terms of community building. It is a great way to bond with teachers and other parents in a neutral and creative environment. It is also a great way to “test-run” first-time volunteers. Parents often start with Art in Action and then they become more open and available to sign up for other activities in the school.

Nancy: AIA definitely builds school community. Every classroom on campus is involved in AIA. The parents/teachers need to communicate with each other for planning lessons and scheduling. The most exciting part of AIA is our Open House Art Show. Each classroom showcases their best pieces for a big display in our Community Center on Campus. It’s so fun to listen to the conversations around the room. Some students remembering when they did that piece in previous years and some looking forward to new AIA lessons, and lots of oohing and awing!

What tips do you have for Art in Action communities?

  1. Coordinate the schedule for lessons with docents and teachers at the beginning of the school year. Create a master schedule for the entire school so that lesson times don’t overlap.
  2. A few days before a lesson takes place, email docents, assistants and teachers a reminder.
  3. Keep open communication with teachers, administrators and librarians. They are essential to the program’s success and accommodate our space, storage, technology or collaboration needs.
  4. Let teachers know the subject of the lesson so they can integrate it with other curriculum, or suggest a better time to teach the lesson.
  5. Relax, have fun and showcase the students’ work at the end of the school year!