Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Whirlwind Changes on the Art Teaching Front..........

If there was ever a time that this painting (the best masterpiece of all time!) is completely apropos of occurrences and drama in life, this would be one of those times. If you told me a couple of weeks ago, that I would be teaching high school art this year, I wouldn't have believed you.

But here I am!

I mean, I knew I would be trying to narrow my field a little and eventually only teach junior high or high school, but I fully intended to complete a third academic year at Heartland, which is K-8. However, it appeared that my 7-12 certification was a problem considering I was teaching K-8. I was up front with this issue over 2 years ago when I was hired on. At the time, they said it "didn't matter". Well, since then, art has become a "core" area. That is a good thing. Art is seen as important as math, science, language arts, etc. And it should be. Art extends into all those disciplines. We "have to" use math and language for the rest of our lives, but we GET to have art in our lives, whether we have it as a hobby or job goal or not.

Therefore, in order for the schools to get the funding they need, teachers need to be in their proper spots.

The high school art teacher at one of the district high schools had the opposite problem: her certification was K-8. Therefore, it became necessary for the district to have us swap places. Of course this could have been done in much more organized manner with both schools offering more support with the situation, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

Last weekend (Labor Day weekend), myself and the other teacher were stressed to the limits trying to get our rooms switched while dealing with the emotional components of leaving our students behind. I did come to a breaking point. I won't lie. It was just all so much with so little assistance (which is contingent on the disorganized way this "problem" was first introduced to us and how it was discovered after the school year began and not before!). It was tough because neither school was willing to bend very far making it possible for us to have access to the classrooms on the Saturday of a 3-day weekend, but we did get some wiggle room. It took some begging and unfortunately, more aggressiveness that I really felt comfortable putting forth. (to those of you laughing and going, "Yeah, right! Since when is Jill uncomfortable being aggressive? Many times. This being one of those time. I didn't like it one bit.)

On Tuesday September 8th, I began as the high school art teacher. The previous teacher's students miss her of course, just like mine miss me. It'll be challenging with them at first, but so far, I can see this being a very good situation (even though the good situation was done in the most wrong and disorganized way. Did I mention that?! Well, it won't be the last time).

Now, instead of 600 students and 9 different grades, I have 4 grades, 5 classes and same students everyday. This high school is also closer to home. But I wasn't really complaining of my commute before, but the closer commute is still a nice bonus. Still, I feel bad for the other teacher. I do hope she does well taking on the Heartland crew. I know she will. She's a wonderful teacher. I just wish I could work with her as a fellow art teacher at a high school with our classrooms near each other, instead of me taking her class and sending her down to mine at Heartland.

It was quite emotional as many of my Heartland kids made me good-bye notes and cards. One 6th grade class signed their names on a red piece of poster board. I have that hanging in my high school art room.

Here is the Heartland Newsletter sent out to many of the Heartland parents this week. It also is a good re-cap of the artwork in August from my K-8 students.


I apologize for the delay in getting the second edition of the newsletter sent out. Some or most of you might be aware of some changes that have been made in terms of the Heartland art department. Due to some certification requirements, it became necessary for me and the art teacher at one of our high schools to switch places. This had nothing to do with the abilities of myself and the other instructor in being able to inspire, teach and educate in the arts. It was simply state-requirements on our certifications, and it’s important that everyone is teaching in the right place as per our state teaching certification.

Unfortunately, that means I am no longer at Heartland. My final day at Heartland Ranch was Friday, September 4th. This whirlwind switch was also a difficult and emotional one, as I’ve gotten to know and love these Heartland students over the last two academic years. I’ve watched them grow from young kindergartners and first graders to more confident second and third graders. I’ve watched second, third and fourth graders enter into middle school “zones” or close to it. They have grown up so much and I am grateful for the time I was able to be a part of that. I’ve watched junior high students improve their self-confidence and prepare for high school in hopes that many of them continue to take advantage of art programs.

Fortunately, the Heartland School of Art has been left in wonderful, creative and capable hands. Ms. Shari Barry began as the art teacher on September 8th the day after Labor Day. She has a full spectrum of art experience as she was the K-8 art teacher at Mountain Vista, and then high school art at San Tan Foothills High School. I am certain plenty of creative masterpieces will continue to emerge from the Heartland School of Art!

However, before the switch was made, we accomplished quite a bit at the Heartland School of Art in the first busy month of August!



1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders began the year with a drawing lesson. One of the animals as part of our important Character Counts credo is Ansvar the Elephant. We learned about the pillar of Responsibility and why the elephant is its symbol and why green is the color of responsibility.

The students were challenged as we combined simple shapes and plenty of use of erasers to put together our own pachyderm of responsibility. Then, they would add color and embellishment around it. Depending on the grade level, students were to practice their writing and label it with responsibility or write a short description of what it means to be responsible.

1st thru 4th graders also explored combining shapes in a collage form by taking circles or even a variety of other shapes to create a new composition that could only emerge from their imaginations.


Even though Dr. Seuss’s birthday isn’t until March, Mrs. H wanted to introduce him as the person, Ted “Seuss” Geisel, who was inspired by his mother’s reading of poetry and singing chants to him as a child. His mother’s influence later led to his innovative poems, stories and characters (that we affectionately call “Seussels”) that changed our enjoyment for reading forever. Students from grades 1-4 had the opportunity to create their own “Seussel” character, and even contribute one to a classroom book of “Seussels”.


The Heartland kindergartners began the year at the Heartland School of Art getting to know simple procedures that involves taking care of supplies ad following directions. They learned this while completing their own gum ball machine of various colors as Ms. H helped them see which gumballs were labeled which colors. The following week, they were read a book called Where the Wild the Things Are and how the boy Max in the story used his imagination. The kinder kiddos then used their imagination to create their own Wild Things with two sets of googly eyes that were pre-glued on the colored construction paper.

The kinder kiddoes were also given a packet of animals that they were able to complete however they wanted. They could make their lions happy or sad, their zebras with thick lines or thin lines, or their elephant drinking water or splashing with its trunk. The kindergartners were then able to work with both Ms. H and their new art teacher Ms. Barry to use a simple circle and then use their imagination to decide what it was going to become. The simple circle became a lot of things such as bicycles, asteroids, flowers, and suns! Our kindergartners certainly have gotten a jump start on using their imagination at Heartland!



The Middle School students began the year getting to know art history and figuring out if they could guess which art pieces were more recent and which ones were truly of ancient history. They then got to know three French Impressionist artists (Monet, Renoir and Seurat) and formed groups determining the differences in their painting style. The objective of this activity was to accomplish much more than a simple introduction to a style in art history. It was also symbolic of looking at things in a different way, and finding symbols in the artwork. This was an excellent activity for the beginning of the year, because it is difficult sometimes to “find your own style” and appreciate the differences in each other.

From late 19th century Impressionism, we moved on to modern artist Keith Haring and his vibrant use of colors and symbols that he completed in the 1980s. We discussed symbols and what certain symbols meant to Keith Haring. Grades 5-8’s first art-making project was to create their own symbolic piece of artwork with a brief explanation of its meaning. A wide-arrange of styles and symbolic artwork emerged from this project.

Tidbits from the Heartland Gallery:

Some Haring-Inspired Symbols

Elephants of Responsibility

Those Silly Suessels!!!

A page from a fourth grade class's book of Silly Seussels:

And now, pieces of my Heartland art room that I left behind. A lot of stuff came with me, because it was my own stuff. However, a lot of stuff I made for the room and student artwork remained. After all, it is their art room.

Closest thing you'll find to an aquarium here in the desert:

And even though I am liking my new post at the high school, I struggle with the memories I had at Heartland and the kiddos and friends I left behind. It's very bittersweet but the Man Upstairs clearly knows what he's doing. I would have been too stubborn to make this move on my own. But already, it is so much better for me. Still, this whole process is lot like the song "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys. Just listen to it and look at the Scream image on the top of this entry and that's what this lovely process has been like, even if in the end it appears to be the right move. (Sabotage is #67 if you want the whole surround sound effects of this posting.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We Interrupt this Procrastinating and Exhaustion to post a reminder about the value of EDUCATION!

EDUCATION: It's NOT Hazardous, but try telling that to many "pro-family" but seemingly "anti-education" individuals around this country.

I'm already behind on blog entries and I didn't want to get even more detracted from important entries that need to be made pertaining to some changes with work, a new calling at church, and did I say "changes" at work? That's putting it mildly. However, it looks like I have to still put off those necessary entries for this one, due to something that has been really putting me in a tizzy in the last few days:
The complete level of hysteria over our nation's President making a speech to our nation's school children on Tuesday, September 8th. Apparently, many people have forgotten that even if you don't agree with someone on political matters, that they can equally make valuable non-partisan messages with only positive intentions. Here is what I sent to various school officials and media outlets:

As a fellow educator (I am a teacher for a neighboring district) and Queen Creek Unified District parent, I am so saddened, disappointed and plain outraged that QCUSD will NOT be airing our President's positive and non-partisan message about EDUCATION. I am not just saying this because I'm a registered Democrat. My registered Republican husband is just as disappointed and stands behind me and echoes every word. Obviously he and many others on both sides of the political spectrum have enough sense to see the non-partisan value in the President's message.

This is something I cannot say for the choice made by QCUSD, where I've always valued for the high standards of education my children receive.
However, this decision by QCUSD does not reflect those same high educational standards. When the President announced he would speak to the school-age children in America about education and staying in school, it was inherent that all children could choose to watch this broadcast or not. The parents of these children could instruct their children to watch or not. But it appears in the Queen Creek Unified School District this choice is not available. Why couldn't they have offered a two-room solution—those who want to watch go to the library, those who don’t go to the cafeteria?

What bothers me also, is the district has not posted anything about this unenlightened decision on their website. To my knowledge, they haven't published this information anywhere. How many parents are going to be sending their children to school on Tuesday, thinking their children will have the opportunity to listen to their President speak, and will find out, after the school day is over, that their child didn’t participate as millions of other school-age children in this nation have?

Yes, there is the Internet. Yes, my own children (and thankfully, my 60+ students in the district I teach for) will still see Barack Obama encourage kids to stay in school, study hard, and make the most of their educational opportunities. They won’t miss out in the long run the blessing that our President is investing in our children’s educations and talking to them about the value of it.

But the underlying message that the President’s speech is somehow wrong, bad, evil, indoctrinating, even brainwashing, is what really has me in a lather. The underlying message that if you don’t agree with Obama’s politics, it’s okay to ignore this very worthy message. And further, that you don’t have to give him the respect that elected officials deserve in this nation, whether you agree with his health care reforms or not.

It is possible to disagree with someone about political things but agree with them about others. I think of the Senate friendship between Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and the late Ted Kennedy (D-Mass). Their political differences were as different as Siberian winters and Phoenix summers. However, they had enough integrity, class, and sense, to agree to disagree and still see the commonalities that enabled them to respect each other and form a long standing friendship. That same class and sense and integrity is not seen in this decision made by the Queen Creek Unified School District, or for that matter, any school district in this nation that is ignorantly making the same decision.

Bottom Line: If you send your kid to school, you obviously care that he or she is getting a publicly funded education. You care that your child is learning to read, write, do math, science, the arts, etc. So when your President decides to reiterate your own message to your children to stay in school and learn the information given to them by their teachers, it may be wise to actually support this worthy message, even if you disagree with him on other issues. And to teach your children that elected officials deserve our respect.

I am not ashamed to live in the Queen Creek School District, due to the education and high values my children receive here. But I am ashamed of the message QCUSD is sending to the bright students and hard-working school teachers and staff who make their living here. It is plain sad that in this state of Arizona with such a low standard of education as reflected by our #50 ranking, that such a message of denying a pro-educational speech is made. Talk about ironic!

Jill Henrichsen Queen Creek, AZ