Taking the Creative Leap: Arts Education in the Virtual Classroom

Categories: Arts, EMPOWERMENT AND SUCCESS: Academic Enrichment, Education,

Editor's Note: Kelli Maldonado is Director of Education & Community Engagement at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

What do you do when the world shifts unexpectedly, and the programs that have worked for years can no longer happen as expected? This is the situation the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Education & Community Engagement Department found ourselves in at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schooltime performances, classroom residencies, and family literacy nights all cancelled as schools moved to virtual classrooms and continued social distancing made pretty much every program impossible. Faced with a challenge of maintaining our mission of teaching students in, through and about the arts, our staff was forced to follow our own teachings and THINK CREATIVELY.

As it became clear that virtual learning, in varying methods, were going to continue into the summer and beyond, the Van Wezel Education Department took the next creative leap – how can we deliver LIVE virtual content to students in an educational setting? Through a grant from the Allen Wirtz Nobbe and Jo Bowen Nobbe fund of Community Foundation of Sarasota County, we have been able to develop and pilot Artworks for Schooltime: Virtual Engagement, a series of interactive remote arts lessons that will be available to schools this fall.

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Kathryn Sjogren,
Teaching Artist with Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, goes fishing for student creativity in a session of Artworks for Schooltime.

Working with Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota County, Girls Inc of Sarasota County and Sarasota County Schools’ Summer 2020 BOOST program, Van Wezel teaching artists have used drama, visual art and movement to connect with over 100 students this summer.

One lesson asks students to create portraits of a character from a close read of a book passage; another builds math fluency through movement. Whether parts of a story, or a study of habitats, students log on (as a whole classroom or individually) and have the chance to create. What’s more, they have the chance to create with others.

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Students flex their math fluency with movement during a Zoom session of Artworks for Schooltime: Virtual Engagement. Looks like they scored a 100%!

During a time when social distancing keeps our circles small for safety, it can be a challenging isolation. The Van Wezel’s model has allowed students to interact with other classrooms virtually – sharing ideas and laughs with students outside of their four walls. The impact is real. One young girl, logging off a virtual backstage tour and workshop exclaimed “this was the best thing ever!” Another workshop featured young people creating a Tableau of who they want to become, with one young person sharing her desire to be a cardiovascular surgeon.

The arts teach us that we can express, they teach us that we can be creative, and that we can dream. Artists thrive in challenging situations because they are CREATIVE, finding new ways to teach and inspire in a world that is uncertain.

As the 2020-2021 School year is still in flux, the Van Wezel is ready to flex its creative muscles with the rest of our community. Because we need children to build these same muscles. To be inspired, to be our next generation of innovators, our next generation of heroes. Creativity really is an essential skill for success in the workforce – something we’ve experienced firsthand at the Van Wezel. It is a skill we must teach and model for students, so they can learn to be problem solvers no matter the situation. Watch for virtual art-integration opportunities to be posted on EdExploreSRQ in the coming month. These tested lessons will be there to build creativity and numerous other skills in students, teachers, and families.