A long held tradition of the East Carolina University School of Art and Design (SoAD) continues as it hosts after school arts classes on pertinent cultural topics for youths around the Greenville, North Carolina, area virtually.
Cynthia Bickley-Green, a professor of art education within the SoAD, oversees the program and said it has been a program at the university for over 60 years, 27 of which she has headed. The after school arts classes are the first practicum for art education majors, Bickley-Green said, although the class is open for any major to join and teach.
The transition last year to online instruction has been difficult, according to Bickley-Green, with less attention to pay to each K-12 student individually. This year, Bickley-Green said the K-12 students were divided into classes based on grade level to keep the classes small, with three university students assigned to each, to allow for more individual attention.
“You don’t have to teach children how to be children, they already know that, so you need to give them experiences that will lead them into adulthood,” Bickley-Green said. “So last semester we looked at the development of human rights.”
Last semester’s class made a puppet show for each of the developmental phases of human rights and this semester, Bickley-Green said, the class took a look at science, sustainability and nutrition. Art served to supplement the information, according to Bickley-Green, where students made leaf-prints with clay, personalized their plant journals, and made a brochure to sum up what they learned in the class.
Materials for the class are provided by the SoAD after the parents pay the $5 fee for the class, Bickley-Green said. She said she decides the overall content of the course, but the ECU students who teach the class designed units and lessons around it.
“We chose to have the children grow their own garden and then, or at least they’re going to sprout some seeds, and then watch the seeds grow and learn about good nutrition, and how their nutrition can help them stay healthy, strengthen their immune system and stuff like that,” Bickley-Green said.
Robert Quinn, ECU associate professor of art education, acts as liaison between the art department and the ECU Youth Programs and Camps Office. Quinn said he works with the office to ensure compliance with the youth programs and camps offices’ policies to keep minors protected and safe.
Quinn said the program is important not only to provide aspiring art educators with important experience but also as a form of community outreach and enrichment.
“I think the thing that we value this particular program so very much is we see that there is a great need, interest in our community, for young people to receive art lessons. We feel that the after school art class provides an opportunity for students who may have an interest and aptitude for art to study it in a very controlled environment, very safe environment with some of their peers, some of their potentially like-minded peers,” Quinn said.
Rachel Karwacki, senior art education major, said she taught the class in the fall 2020 semester. The human rights unit she taught had students make puppets, and the subsequent puppet show, Karwacki described as “pretty dope.”
Karwacki said there was the struggle to keep kids engaged, a struggle that extends to public schools and programs everywhere. Technological literacy is another aspect where some students may struggle and not have access to skills they need to succeed in online instruction, Karwacki said, but despite this, teaching the class was a positive experience for both her and the children.
“It gives them(students of the art classes) a really good outlet to get creative, they can get out their feelings, and they can talk to, like, people their own age. It's kind of like an escape, you know, for after school, for creative kids who are really looking for an outlet to express themselves. It was even good for me,” Karwacki said.