The art of volunteering
VES students complete variety of artwork in class
Chinese scroll paintings, African masks and numerous other pieces of artwork line the halls of Vinland Elementary School, making the building resemble more of an art gallery than a school.
"We made things like African masks, which is something you don't usually see around a school," VES fourth-grader Chesney Buck said.
The pieces adorning the halls represent the series of art projects VES students have completed since the beginning of the school year with help from Amy Albright.
Albright has spent the last several months teaching art to VES students on a volunteer basis.
"She has done an outstanding job for us," VES Principal Bill Scott said. "We appreciate Amy's contribution. We're all fortunate to have had her."
Albright, who has a bachelor's of fine arts degree in textile design from Kansas University, said she made the decision to teach art at the elementary school after it had been cut from the curriculum because of lack of funding in the district.
"We did everything we possibly could (to keep art)," she said. "We went to board meetings, we formed a budget group, we talked to people in the state. We had just done everything we could."
Albright, who has compiled the school newsletter for a few years, said she considered home schooling her two children who attend VES once art was cut.
But she changed her mind and instead decided to volunteer at the school not only for her two children, but the other students as well.
"Over the past three years I've gotten to know these kids and I'm pretty fond of them," she said. "And this was a place were I was able to know I had something I could bring. I felt qualified to do it."
Albright applied for a Target fine arts grant over the summer to support the school's art program, but didn't receive it because of the school's small size. No grant left the school searching for supplies.
"We literally started out with an empty room," she said.
The school was able to borrow desks and chairs from the Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center, and a parent, who is an art teacher in another district, donated art posters and some other materials. What money the school did have for art, she said, came from the school's PTO and student leadership fundraiser.
The art classes started at the first of the school year, and have continued each Friday, 30 minutes for each class.
Albright said her curriculum not only included art education, but incorporated a lot of social studies and language arts.
"I think people think the visual arts is drawing pictures and having fun," she said. "I don't think people realize what it really does. It does a lot of things.
"Why not make it fun to learn?" she said. "Just because it's fun doesn't mean it doesn't have value."
The school's art projects varied from ink calligraphy and bamboo painting to African masks and Day of the Dead pieces as students learned about different cultures like China, Africa and Latin America.
"They know where these places are now," she said. "They have a world awareness they didn't have before and they're proud of that."
Students also wrote reports about artists, and even spent time learning about commercial art and how it works in advertising.
The students' art projects won't just be decorating the hallways of the school this month. VES was selected to display its art at the State Board of Education office in Topeka through the month of March.
Albright said though there were concerns about her teaching art at the beginning, both students and parents are positive about the program.
"Even parents who were skeptical have been appreciative because their kids have gotten so much out of it, and they recognize that," she said.
But how long the art at VES will continue is uncertain. Albright, who owns Vinland Valley Nursery with her husband, can no longer teach art at the school this year because of her job requirements. Volunteers, though, will be stepping in during the next few weeks to teach some art classes, like ceramics.
Whether Albright returns next year is also uncertain.
"I desperately want to do it again next year, but I can't do it unofficially," she said. "It's a financial hit I can't afford to take."
She said teaching art, even on a volunteer basis, is time consuming and takes away from her nursery.
She said she is not alone in wanting art to continue next year.
"The students all want to know about next year. That's a big deal to them," she said. "They're going to take a big hit if they don't have something like this next year.
"My hope is we demonstrated the great things we can do and the district will see it in their hearts to reinstate art for all of the grade schools," she said.
Scott said volunteers like Albright and John Hay, who taught fourth-grade science this year, have helped make a well-rounded curriculum.
"It's created a very positive learning environment for the elementary students," he said.
Buck said she really enjoyed the art classes and hoped they could continue in the future.
"But really I would just like to say thanks Amy," she said. "She's a very good teacher."