AAPS student art in the time of COVID

Students express a myriad of feelings through art

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Creating art can be a nonverbal way to express feelings and emotions, especially in times of uncertainty.

As Georgia O’Keeffe put it: “I found I could say things with colors and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”

Huron High School art teacher Kristin Kubacki asked her digital photography class to turn in an assignment she called “Coping with the Pandemic,” which is an idea she got from Meredith Giltner, an art teacher at Skyline High.

Kristin Kubacki

Before students took their photos, Kubacki asked them to reflect on the following:

What are some of your greatest challenges during the pandemic?

What helps you to feel balanced, healthy, and happy right now?

What objects could you use to symbolize how you are coping with the pandemic? 

The students generated a list of items that helped them to cope, and then created a flat lay—which is a style of photography where the camera is directly above items that are arranged on a flat surface. In addition to considerations of symbolism, students were asked to create dynamic visual compositions that used the principles of design.

A few of the results:

  • Alessandra Corsetti
  • Mohamed Diakite
  • Riley Ball
  • Mihail Gueorguiev
  • Isaac Bolanos-Urena
  • Beatrice Hsing
  • Destinee Inhmathong

“This is an incredibly difficult time for our students,” says Kubacki. “They are trying to navigate a new learning platform while being separated from their friends and teachers, and while dealing with the anxieties of the pandemic. That’s why it is so important that we give them the opportunity to explore their experiences and express themselves. With this project, students were encouraged to recognize that there are things they can do to help themselves. I hope it helped them to feel empowered about their own wellbeing.”

Kubacki says she misses the camaraderie of the classroom.

“But it’s incredibly uplifting whenever a student shares their artwork with me,” she says. “It reminds me that these kids are resilient, and that they are eager to create.” 

High school students express a myriad of feelings through art

Ellen Gessert

Skyline visual arts teacher Ellen Gessert asked her students to make a Sticky Note mural of feelings during this time, visualizing how they’re doing. Another assignment asked them to compare expectations to reality during this time. A few of the results:

  • March 2020 students
  • Brady Keith
  • Skylar Roberts
  • March 2020 students
  • Olivia Palmbos
  • Lucy Bauer
  • Tony Delgado

Gessert said there’s a whole spectrum of situations students are in right now, with some who are struggling while others are adapting to the situation and doing fine.

“My peers in other districts are juggling virtual, in-person, and hybrid teaching all at once and I can’t imagine that would be a positive experience for anyone. Do I miss my students? Absolutely. Do I think we’ve prepared our staff, students, and community by focusing on virtual learning? Absolutely.”

Ellen Gessert, Skyline art teacher

A huge difference is mindset, she said, noting that students who are able to engage in instruction tend to be those who’ve accepted that this is our situation because we are in the midst of a dangerous pandemic.

“But there’s still a population that views this virtual learning in a negative way and are struggling to keep up with their assignments,” she said.

Asked how she herself is doing, Gessert said the first few weeks were incredibly difficult – for students, teachers, parents, all shareholders.

“My email would be pinging until one or two AM. I was consistently working 15 hour days,” she said. “But I do feel a slight shift, as I’m personally settling into a route and feeling an appreciation for our AAPS district. My peers in other districts are juggling virtual, in-person, and hybrid teaching all at once and I can’t imagine that would be a positive experience for anyone. Do I miss my students? Absolutely. Do I think we’ve prepared our staff, students, and community by focusing on virtual learning? Absolutely.

“As a visual arts teacher, there are challenges to not always seeing my students, because I can’t see their art in real-time. But with a bit of problem-solving, we’ve figured out ways to share, critique, and discuss student artwork. I’m trying to focus on the positives of our situation, while not forgetting empathy and compassion.” 

Emily Fineberg, art teacher at Angell and King elementary schools, recently planned a button project inspired by a social justice lesson created by Allen art teacher Sarah Conner. 

Emily Fineberg

She prompted the students to think about what would help make the world a better place and to create a button from those ideas. COVID and being kind to mother earth were just two ideas of many that the 5th grade artists came up with.

“My students and I sure do miss being in person to create art in our art room,” she says. “Sharing smiles and working on art together on Zoom brings me joy during virtual learning.

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