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Steamboat Magazine

Arts Education Flourishing

12/01/2011 01:00AM ● By Anonymous

Artful Eye: Lowell Whiteman School art teacher Lainey Heartz at home in her studio Photo: Corey Kopischke

Local schools condone creativity

By Nora Parker

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO TEACH ART to high school students in late 2010, in an era of diminishing funding and a population distracted by digital devices? News from the trenches is surprisingly good. 

“The greatest challenge I have engaging my students is getting over the block in their minds that they’re not creative or that they have zero artistic ability,” says Lainey Heartz, who teaches at the Lowell Whiteman School. 

For Morgan Peterson at Steamboat Springs High School, her challenge lies in motivation. Some students think art should be an easy A, and get upset when they learn they have to put in significant effort to earn that grade. Occasionally she’ll get a student who simply doesn’t value the discipline required. “Sometimes I get a student who will say something like, ‘No offense, but I don’t understand why art class is worth as much as a math or science class.’ If they come in with the attitude that it’s not important, it can be difficult to reach them.” 

But those are the exceptions. Despite those hiccups, for the most part kids love art class. “They get a break, they can use their creativity, there’s freedom and independence to make choices,” says Peterson. 

There’s no question that the skills learned in art class help students be successful in life. Both Lainey and the high school’s Lisa Derning have found that breaking an artistic process down into concrete pieces, or building blocks, allows students to achieve success and build confidence. “This higher cognitive thinking skill encourages students to realize there could be numerous solutions to one problem,” Derning says. “Thinking outside the box is a job skill requirement for 21st century employers, so to prepare our students for their future we need to give them more creative thinking opportunities.”

Media is important to the students. “The more tactile the media, the more the students enjoy it,” says Heartz, adding that clay is very popular. “This year we’re also experimenting with batik, which has my students excited.” Peterson has had success with photography, especially a neprogram using metal-body, analog cameras. “We had a bunch of cameras donated that don’t have an ‘automatic’ mode,” she says. “The quality of work has gone up; the kids are really into working with the manual settings.”

And if they enjoy the arts, so does everyone else. “Steamboat is unique for being a smaller mountain town that holds visual arts in high regard,” adds Peterson, whose teaching job in a mountain town in California was eliminated when arts funding was cut. 

In fact, arts education here is blossoming. One new high school program is a mentoring partnership with the Center for Visual Arts and local artists. The center works with the teachers to pair students in advanced placement art classes with local artists. “It’s a great program where students work with local artists to develop a 24-piece portfolio for the college board,” says Derning. “Learning about art, and how to make it, can have a lasting effect on the way teenagers engage in and feel connected to their community and to the world,” Heartz adds.