Art teacher Amy Greathead showed up at the end-of-the-year party at her elementary school wearing a white skirt decorated with rainbows her students drew with fabric markers.
Greathead, who has been at the Mount Horeb Primary Center for two years and previously taught in Beloit for three years, said she has started a tradition of having her students collaborate on a project at the end of the year.
“This year I wanted to wear their artwork, and I wanted rainbows because of how tough this year has been,” said Greathead, who spent most of the year teaching art online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rainbow skirt isn’t the only thing that set Greathead apart this year. She is a recipient of a 2021 Art Education Leadership Award honoring the “hard-working, passionate instructors who teach their students to create and value art, produce innovative lessons, and continually motivate their peers on Artsonia,” according to an announcement from the organization that gave out the award.
Artsonia is the world’s largest online student art museum, and Greathead has been posting her students' work there since she began teaching.
She was selected among thousands of instructors as one of 15 national winners of this award. The award honors “pioneers in the art education community who continuously inspire their peers and engage students,” the announcement said.
“When we do projects, it’s always bright, there’s always a lot of colors,” said Leah Aeschlimann. “Her whole classroom is a rainbow (the way it is colorfully decorated).”
Asked to pick a favorite art project this year, Leah said, “There’s a lot that I liked.”
This year was particularly challenging since Greathead’s school started this fall with online lessons as it grappled with how to keep students safe during the pandemic.
Greathead approached online lessons by creating art folders for her students every quarter so they could have 10 weeks of materials at home. It meant she had to create about 480 folders each quarter, so her boyfriend and her parents, who live in East Bristol where she grew up, came over to help.
“With some kids, I don’t even know what they would have at home,” Greathead said. “I just needed to get paper in their hands.”
The first folder had 10 weeks of art paper. She also made painting kits, a sewing kit and a clay kit.
Online to in-person
Art and music classes remained online when students went on a hybrid schedule from November until spring break. Then the school was fully open through the end of the year. That’s when Greathead created a new art room setup in both of her classrooms to fit up to 24 students with the required social distancing by removing all of the furniture and doing art on the floor.
Greathead said she likes Artsonia as a way to share lesson plans and video lessons, and it is a fundraising opportunity because families can have mugs, T-shirts and postcards created with student art on them; 20 percent of the revenue goes to the classroom. Greathead said about $300 was raised through Artsonia, and that paid for the clay, paint and sewing kits. It's also a way to connect with students’ extended families, she said.
Artsonia can be used to crowdsource lesson plans, although Greathead does not use it that way.
In addition, students' art that is posted in the gallery is automatically entered in art contests, and Greathead’s student Leah was named Artist of the Week for her age group for one of her works. She received a plaque and a $50 gift card for art supplies. The school also received $100.
Leah’s mom, Kris Aeschlimann, who also has a second-grade son, Logan, said when the students got the quarterly folders, all the materials were stacked together in a very organized way. She also liked that the students were given projects they could work on over several weeks, which she said was a great way to fill their time when they were home.
“When it comes to art and the age range (Greathead) is working with, she seems to have a really good handle on what they need, especially this year,” parent Shannon Elliott-Chalgren said. “The kids were always excited when it was pickup time (for the kits).”
Elliott-Chalgren’s second-grade daughter, Luella Chalgren, enjoyed making succulents and cactus plants out of clay, but also said she liked all of the projects.
Luella’s sister, kindergartner Hariette Chalgren, said she made a model of her face with the clay, although she chose to make it unrealistic. She made bangs and a pigtail for her hair because she didn’t want to throw away any of the multi-colored pipe cleaners she was given for the project.
“The hair was a rainbow because the pipe cleaners were different colors," she said. "It was really fun."
Artsonia is the world’s largest online student art museum, and Amy Greathead has been posting her students' work there since she began teaching.
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