Galleries : The Art Of The Charter School
Upon entering the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury, it is clear that art is a major part of the school community. Artwork covers the hallways and is displayed everywhere in the classrooms. There is even an "Artist of the Week" display case highlighting individual work.
So it seems no surprise that this year the school created positions for two art teachers. With the charter school's school population growing each year (currently 177 students, grades K-12), it was time that the art curriculum be distributed. Sharing responsibilities and collaborating on projects are Nichole Shank and Cara Yahrling who, along with teaching regular art classes, offer electives focused on art and organize the weekly artist in residence class where artists from the community come to teach their particular skills to the students.
One of the benefits of the charter school is that it is small enough to allow the teachers to easily work together. Ms. Shank teaches the students from grade K-6, and Ms. Yahrling teaches grades 7-12. They both acknowledge that they are lucky to have each other, and often bounce ideas off one another. And since students from kindergarten through grade 12 are all gathered together in the school, Ms. Shanks can develop the beginning stages of what the students will eventually be learning from Ms. Yahrling.
The two teachers face the same challenge because of the school's limited space. Neither has her own art room, but travels to different classrooms to give lessons. Within their class time they need to bring their materials (which they keep on a rolling cart) set up, explain the goal for the day, and then are usually forced to have the students shut down their creative juices in order to clean and leave the room as they found it.
The teachers are good-natured about the situation, which they call "art in a cart," or "art a la cart," but admit it makes things more difficult, cutting into their teaching time.
In order for Ms. Yahrling to get her students' pottery finished, she takes her personal time to load up her car with their work, drives to Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs, in order to fire it in a kiln, and then has to go back to retrieve the finished projects.
Ms. Shank is quick to point out, "This is a community that works together. The teachers are gracious; they're giving us their space to use during their prep time. This system wouldn't work at all if that wasn't happening."
The teachers are clearly flexible and along the way have figured out things that work. One thing for sure, the lack of space at the charter school has not dampened the students' excitement for art. Students eagerly report that they "love art" and get excited about their art classes. Much of what they do in art class is integrated with other classes, and students take turns describing a recent organism diorama that was made to complement their science studies.
The teachers have high hopes for next year. The school is adding a new building with four new rooms that will hopefully be finished by next September. One of those rooms will create space for an art room. Bob Moore, Director of the charter school, says that, "It is encouraging to give space next year to the art program and we will all benefit from it. As the art program moves forward, it is in the best interest in that vision that the teachers have their own space and the students do too."
The teachers are excited about their future room, and as Ms. Yahrling notes, having their own room "will offer a constant emotional and social place of safety for the students" and will also "offer more options for modern art education."
The new challenges that lie ahead vary from figuring out how to furnish a room that will be housing not only kindergartners, but high school seniors. But since art classes won't be pushed from room to room anymore it will be easier to teach graphic design on their own computers, teach pottery, stain glass, etc.
Ms. Yahrling will be applying for grants in the future when she has the room to store things like this, but in the meantime, she is looking for supplies - unused kilns, pottery wheels, and drafting tables - that people might have to contribute.
Collaborative teaching drives the program. The students are working on projects that are integrated into all parts of the curriculum, and the program involves the community. Once the room is up and running things will only get better. As one seventh-grader put it, "It will be nice to have an art sanctuary."
Dena Ventura is a freelance writer living in Vineyard Haven.