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Spotlight: Creative education and the arts

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Submitted Photo Teachers of Roswell Independent School District’s Elementary Arts Program, Arts Connect, will provide a safe environment at school.

Virtual, hybrid or homeschooling — this fall brings out creativity in teachers

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

Creativity and the arts go hand in hand with science, math and technology. The Roswell Independent School District (RISD) integrated the arts in its curriculum and though the classes this fall will be different due to the pandemic, arts are still a big part of its programs. The teachers of RISD’s Elementary Arts Program, Arts Connect, whose home base is the Creative Learning Center, began their programs virtually in August, as was mandated by the state to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The 2020-21 school year hybrid model for art education will be adapted for the students who rotate between in-person and online learning.

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Safe environment at school

Arts Connect Principal Abie Smith said that the emphasis is on teamwork, not only between the art teachers, but with the general education teachers. “None of this is a simple transition,” Smith said during a phone interview. “But that is because of us being very methodical to make a very safe environment. We have protocols in place to make sure it is safe, that’s our goal. I usually have one teacher scheduled and that teacher goes to every school. This year, for purposes of less contact, we have set up teams and they are going to four schools.”

These teacher teams will be at the different schools, K-5 students, and remain all day every other week, Smith said. This is to make sure that the general teachers have enough time to get their information to their students.

“It is definitely a partnership in meeting the needs of students, but as well, making sure that the students have academic time to work with their teachers and understanding their material,” Smith said.

“We can clean our carts before we go to another school. We are also making sure that we are doing our health screening. We are making certain that we’re safe to see the students the following day. We will be going to the schools to make sure to be providing lessons to the A group students and the B group students. As far as materials go, we are in process of ordering individual materials. These kits will be kept in bags that will be at school, and those will be in totes with A groups and B groups,” Smith said.

Virtual classes

Arts Connect has been teaching remotely since August.

“We had a class last Thursday (Aug. 20) and we sent out Zoom links to the general teachers,” Smith said. “We have various links to programs that are listed on its (RISD) website. The school district has provided a lot of avenues for students to access fine arts as well as their general education classes.

“If we need to stay virtual, we’ll figure out a way to get some unique material out to students. We couldn’t do that without the support of Mr. (Mike) Gottlieb (RISD Superintendent) and the school district.

“We have guidances from New Mexico Public Education Department and they are following what the CDC is requiring; every district in the state of New Mexico has guidances,” Smith said. “Our primary goal is to do whatever we need to do to get the kids back to school. We are looking at over 4,100 kids.”

Smith said that parents can find more information, including the different platforms and even an RISD app, to go on the district’s website risd.k12.nm.us.

Jeanette Main, Berrendo Middle School art teacher, has been working on creative ideas for virtual classes, though she said in an interview that she does hope to see her students in class.

If classes are only virtual, Main said, she will have to work around it.

“With the projects I do in class, a lot of kids will not have those supplies at home,” she said. “I probably will have to pack those up and rethink my lessons.

“With the hybrid model, they were talking about moving the teachers from class to class, not the children. So there will be less chances of infections,” Main said.

Being creative comes easy for two teachers, or rather tutors. Alethea Hartwell and Jessica Haynes have been homeschooling and found that there has been an influx of parents interested in homeschooling for the first time.

Hartwell is known in the community for being an actress and director for Roswell Community Little Theatre. This season, Hartwell became president of RCLT’s board of directors. Hartwell is also a teacher and board member of Roswell’s Kids in Arts ProgramS (KAPS).

Homeschooling curriculum

In an interview, Hartwell said that she has been homeschooling her two children from the beginning. Her daughter, she said, is 16 and is going to be in 11th grade and her son just turned 14 and is going into 9th grade.

Asked about her teaching method, Hartwell said, “Every homeschool is different. Some homeschools do online courses, I don’t. I have taught all the way through. I have done some video courses, my daughter did a course on the Constitution. It was on video and taught by a constitutional lawyer. Then we had a workbook we went through together.”

“My daughter has been taking some courses at the college, she’s getting dual-credit. Actually, that takes a load off of me, it is nice.”

Hartwell said that the theater classes for KAPS have been suspended until further notice. She said it is because the program does not have the online capabilities at this point.

“Obviously, my kids have always done the theater classes, which they always enjoyed. They’ve taken some drawing classes, art classes and music. There are things in the curriculum that I used when they were younger. If you use a curriculum that has it built in, it’s really super easy to incorporate,” she said.

Homeschooling advice

Asked if she has any advice for parents who are looking to homeschool, Hartwell said, “I think parents should know, homeschooling is doable, even if you are working. I work part-time; as long as your kids are old enough and you can put them on a schedule and keep them on a schedule, you can be kind of in and out and still do a lot of things.”

Haynes’ style of homeschooling is hi-tech. Haynes is known as a professional actress, performing in films, advertisements and on stage with Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company (WWOB). Her husband Robin Haynes is working in the film industry.

In a phone interview, Haynes describes her way of homeschooling.

“I have always chosen to homeschool,” she said. “My oldest is going to be a first grader this year and when it was time for him to go to kindergarten, for us personally, here in Roswell, we felt there wasn’t a curriculum in any of the true school settings that were available for what we believed a kindergartener should have, which is a lot of play and a lot of time to move and be creative.

“For us, it really worked well because he has been able to be who he is as a person, as he learns, and he’s able to move and pay attention in that same way.

“In homeschooling, we don’t adhere a whole lot to grade levels, but it is technically third grade for him,” Haynes said. “Then I have my daughter who is 4 1/2, she’ll be 5 in October. She’ll be a preschooler this year, as well. She tends to be more social and she tends to be more physical, as well.

“Last year, we had her in pre-pre-K, she went to an individual’s home that teaches here in Roswell,” Haynes said. “We have planned to get her back into that private preschool this fall, but I will say, with COVID (-19), I have changed my mind on that.”

With Haynes and her husband having a creative background, homeschooling her children includes the arts naturally. They use art programs that are online, such as Preschool Prodigy she said. Her children were involved in WWOB’s educational theater programs.

“With COVID, we lost a lot, the arts — it is a lifestyle for us,” Haynes said.

Social interaction

Asked if she is concerned that her kids are not getting social interaction, Haynes said, “I have seen (changes) in my children in the last few months, like for all of us. They are a little bit more anxious, a little bit more antsy, which shows in children: They are more quick to lose their temper. They do seem to be on edge like everybody in society is right now. I have mourned the loss of them not being able to go to things like WWOB educational program. They do have socializing in the family.

“I think at a time like this when children are kind of cut off from the rest of the world, it’s a time to instill in them to be a good person and how to deal with them emotionally so they can be better people in our society,” Haynes said.

New to homeschooling

A perfect example of a new homeschooling parent is Chrystal McClain. “I have a lot of kids and I was sent a notification from the teachers that it was going to be 90 minutes of instruction with an RISD teacher,” she said. “I would have to do that for five kids. That’s impossible and I would have to do that at their time that they’ve scheduled it. One is in elementary, two in middle school and two in high school. And three are in special education services, so I’ve got ahold of the RISD about what I would need to do to keep their IEPs (individualized education programs) because I don’t want for them to lose any of those, or what instruction they are going to give them, what’s available. I was not very hopeful. Five students per certified teacher, that’s what I read. This is for the virtual classes. For the hybrid model, they are sending them two days a week and then having the other three days (virtual) — they said they would go with the last names, so they would be all on the same days. I would be dealing with the similar issues with the hybrid schooling having five kids having to get on the internet and spending the same amount of time. It’s just impossible.

“I decided at least with my elementary kid, because she doesn’t have special education services, to do a homeschooling Montessori-type schooling, it’s relaxed and individualized. More their pace and one-on-one learning and I’m doing it with two other friends who have elementary school kids. We’ll have a little bit social, but will be isolated with just the one group of kids.”

Since the interview, McClain had to rearrange some of her plans. “I’m currently doing all three programs. One hybrid, three online with Apex and seven homeschooled with my own curriculum. The Apex, when it’s working, is great for my high-schooler, and my two middle school kids. My one that’s doing hybrid is doing it because he would lose all his AP classes and gifted services; he’s a freshman in high school,” McClain said.

“I love doing the elementary kids with my own curriculum. We are having a great time with it. I feel like all their social/emotional (needs) are met with having other kids to do this with, they have a healthy competition, it keeps them engaged to have each other,” she said.

Asked about her lesson plan, McClain said, “I actually went inexpensively, all our parents did. You can go online and pretty much Google what the requirements are for the state and how to enroll them for homeschooling online.”

McClain said that her and the other parents’ biggest agenda is to provide a well-rounded education. She has tested the children to learn what kind of learning method would be the best, she said.

“Then we have art,” McClain said. “I have a list of websites that go from free piano lessons to learning for dyslexia and they are all free. I don’t have to spend hardly any money. Last year, we spent almost $2,000 for five kids to go to school, just to get them ready. No computers, these are just clothes, shoes and materials they needed, calculators and all that stuff, and I am frugal. I am spending this year maybe $300.”

McClain said that her biggest goal is to provide as much normalcy as possible for the children.”