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Safe at Home, but Exploring the World Through Art

student collage

Distance teaching is hard, but for many subjects at least, one can imagine some of the basic ways to adapt classroom elements virtually: science quizzes via Google Form instead of a sheet of paper, perhaps, or a history presentation slide deck instead of on a big cardboard tri-fold. Now try to imagine teaching something more subjective, like art -- and then try to imagine teaching art virtually to twelve year olds. 

It’s all in a day’s work for GMS’ Art Teacher David Starfas, who works with Gateway’s 6th, 7th and 8th graders to expose them to new ways of thinking, seeing, and expressing themselves from wherever their little corner of the world is in the midst of a global pandemic.

“Art teaches kids that there are multiple solutions to a problem, to notice relationships between things, to work with whatever they have or within a set of limitations,” he said. “More than ever, those are skills we want to be instilling in students.”

Like many Gateway teachers, David is good-natured about the realities of distance learning, and quick to point out an upside for every limitation. What is lost in interaction with students is balanced by how much extra time he has for students outside of class, the loss of access to specialty supplies balanced by the opportunity to explore digital tools

“There are some kids who really struggled with the social anxiety of showing their work in class who are much, much more comfortable sharing online, and they’re really thriving,” he said. “At the same time, some students who really struggle with executive function are having a harder time when I can’t just walk around the room, see they’re doing their work, and give them credit on the spot, so it’s a matter of almost ‘overteaching’ how they can turn in assignments and get credit to make sure they’re supported.”

For students, art class can be a welcome reminder of what they like best about school, as an outlet for stress or anxiety. 

“Working on a piece feels good since I’m not just spending time looking at a screen,” said Dominic, a GMS 7th grader. “It’s nice to be able to make something on a piece of paper, it makes me feel more connected to school.”

David has been intentional about incorporating more art therapy practices and meditative art projects this year, hoping to make space for students to process emotions and find calm. One popular activity is the Zentangle, a method of structuring patterns into a unique piece of art (curious? Try it yourself!).

“It forces you to keep your mind on one thing,” said 6th grader Ishaan. “You’re very concentrated, you aren’t thinking about all the things that stress you out, so it’s very helpful in that way.”

Ultimately, David is looking forward to being able to work with students in person again, with the benefit of some new tricks up his sleeve and a curriculum that has been honed by the effort of keeping kids engaged from a small box on a laptop screen. One thing he could do without, though? 

“I definitely don’t miss cleaning paint off the walls,” he said with a laugh.

Check out some of what GMS’ young artists have produced this year here!