Park City art education evolves in tech age
As STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) becomes more and more commonplace in education vocabulary, some worry that art might be booted out. Teachers in the Park City School District realize that, and they are doing all they can to transform art into the modern age.
Barb Jerome, an art teacher at Ecker Hill Middle School, said she integrates technology, math, science and history into every lesson she can. She teaches the Fibonacci sequence while making mobiles and the history of printmaking while creating prints. She then shows the students how to use iPads to take photographs of their work and make ePortfolios online.
Still, art is being cut in some grades. This year, sixth-grade art was removed from the requirement list at Ecker Hill Middle School. The decision came because of dual-language immersion (DLI) students moving from the elementary schools into the middle school, said Kathy Einhorn, associate superintendent for teaching and learning. Now, language classes for DLI fill the space that used to be set apart for art.
She said that the removal of art from sixth-grade requirements is also partly due to the fact that sixth grade is in middle school in the district rather than in an elementary school.
“As a result, art is negatively impacted in sixth grade,” Einhorn said.
Deb Corrigan, the other art teacher at Ecker Hill, said that when she came to the school, the art program was growing and the subject was required for both sixth and seventh grades. Now, it isn’t required for either.
“Last year, I had five classes and this year I have three,” Jerome said.
Now, Jerome and Corrigan fear that by having some students at Ecker Hill leave without ever taking an art class, they will be less likely to choose art in junior high and high school.
Michele Dieterich, an art teacher at Treasure Mountain Junior High, said as more programs are added in the district, the question always seems to be, “What can we get rid of?” Art tends to be the first to go.
Instead, she wants to see more combination courses so that nothing is lost. She began a digital art class at the junior high 10 years ago, which integrates computer skills and art with animation and photo editing. Einhorn said that the district also loves seeing integrated projects that incorporate the fine arts, and that other teachers at Ecker are trying to do more project-based learning with an art component.
Dieterich and Jerome said that project-based learning is a critical part of all of their art classes. The projects focus on problem-solving rather than finding a single solution.
“The arts are the glue that holds it all together,” Dieterich said. “A lot of the strong and successful project-based learning at the schools center around the arts.”
Plus, when students are required to think outside of the box, they are able to develop skills important for future employment.“This is where our job force is moving,” Jerome said. “What kind of people are we looking to employ in the future? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that we’ll need people who can think independently, who can think creatively, who can think outside of the box and not have their hand held.”
Despite the cutbacks, Park City’s art program is thriving compared to the rest of the state, Dieterich said.
“I feel that the arts play a really important role in the schools, and I’m happy that Park City supports the arts as much as they do,” she said.
There are two art teachers at Ecker Hill, three teachers at Treasure Mountain Junior High and two at Park City High School. Many of them receive funding from the Park City Education Foundation for equipment such as printmaking machines and zoetrope animation machines. At least one teacher at Treasure Mountain receives some amount of grant money from the foundation every year, she said.
The foundation also sponsors Elementary Visual Art (EVA) programs at three of the four elementary schools in the district. Jeremy Ranch Elementary opted out of the EVA program because it has its own Masterpieces in Art program that is lead by volunteers.
But, Corrigan worries that art education involvement in the upper grades is partly due to engaging students during their middle school years. She is unsure that the district will be able to maintain the high quantity of teachers unless changes are made.
Integrating computers and technology into art projects is one way, but Jerome and Corrigan hope the district will also continue valuing art the way it has always been done — with a simple piece of paper and paint.
“They’re going home and getting a lot more technology than they are paints and canvases,” Corrigan said. “I would really hope that we can still keep our elementary and middle school kids with some structured visual arts classes. It’s too young for them to give it up and not try it.”
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The Park City School District offices were inadvertently locked, but security footage was reviewed and the only two community members who showed up were let in and joined in an informal chat with Board of Education members and staff.