“Art is coming to the forefront during the pandemic, not because it is more important, but because we are having to reassess how we cope, and what we are finding is that art was always there ready to help, but now we are taking more time to create.” Veronica Hallock, Episcopal art teacher
From breadmaking to gardening, people have discovered creative ways in which to de-stress in a COVID-19 world. Now that the school year is underway, teachers and students are finding that an art project, a music lesson or a dance class can also make a difference. While the courses may look a little different, the impact is still the same. “The students seem to have a desperate need to move and a genuine need for something that is close to normal,” says dance teacher Christine Chrest. “I have found that my classes, Middle and Upper School, are more enthusiastic and focused than ever.”
Hallock says teaching visual art under the current circumstances is not really all that different from a traditional school year. She says the biggest challenge has been ensuring that students have the supplies they need to create both in the classroom and at home. “I am very fortunate that there are so many online art tutorials and resources, but the successes we are having is in large part because of the collaboration between parents and the school,” she says.
New Episcopal Band Director Marshall Farrell has transitioned from traditional instrument practice to teaching the concepts of rhythm, note-reading and music theory. He says there is an increased focus on the students composing their own music, and there have been great results. “The biggest blessing in disguise of this new curriculum is that it fosters student ownership in their work and creativity more so than a traditional band set up,” says Farrell.
By nature, art teachers are creative, which serves them well as they find new ways to provide an authentic art experience. “It has stretched our imagination a good bit,” says Chrest. “This year is different not only because of wearing masks and staying socially distant but primarily because of the loss of contact. So much of dance is about physical contact, partnering, supporting and lifting.” That creative determination is paying off. Recently, Chrest held auditions for Dance Ensemble which generated enthusiasm for a return to expression. Farrell says musicianship has continued this school year, even if it is in a different way.
While to date, teachers have found meaningful ways in which to continue providing arts, Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan permits more typical arts activities. Students will resume playing instruments and singing together. Hallock says it is important to resume art activities because of the sense of security and calm they provide. “Art teaches healthy emotional expression, it teaches fine motor skills, it is a safe space on campus for students who don’t necessarily feel like they fit, and it creates a balance to the objective and concrete thinking that happens in core classes by offering subjective and non-concrete problem solving.”
The arts have always been an important component of Episcopal’s whole-child experience. Through the creative and determined efforts of Episcopal’s arts faculty, students will continue to benefit from the experience despite the challenges that may exist.