Before the pandemic shuttered schools, Wilkinson Elementary School’s main hallway served several functions at once. It was part art gallery, part communal gathering space where students and teachers would gather before classes began. In the mornings, the entire school would discuss the art, current events, announcements and birthdays.
“We completely lost that as soon as we went online,” said Andrea Caturegli, the school’s fine arts teacher. “We tried in March to have that connection again, but it was really challenging.”
As students gathered on computers at home, Caturegli wanted to replicate that sense of community that focused on art and a sense of inclusion for the kids. By the start of the next school year, she had built just that, a digital gallery called Studio Woo that highlighted student art for the school community to see.
From grade school to high school, art classes on the Coastside have had to adapt their curriculum around remote learning. An online gallery is just one of the changes young artists and seasoned teachers are using to work around the constraints of learning online.
Students at Wilkinson Elementary School are no stranger to the arts and learning about them through a blend of social studies and history. From the school’s inception in 1977, art has played a key role in its curriculum. The school provides annual field trips for some students to learn about cultures across the country, from the American Southwest to New York City.
Studio Woo reflects the broad variety of student interests, from video games to animals and elaborate medieval castles. Each week a new student gets featured as “Artist of the Week.” Caturgeli also makes a point of studying famous artists and having students recreate specific pieces, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait. There’s also an art component to Black History Month that details work from multiple artists and students’ interpretations of their art.
Kevin North, the school’s performing arts teacher and co-founder of Young Actors Workshop, produced the winter concert remotely. For three weeks, North rewrote traditional holiday songs with every class, then had students send a recording of their vocal tracks that were overlaid together on music software. The students also illustrated their portion, which were implemented into the video. Caturgeli believes a key philosophy in Wilkinson’s approach is to foster a love of learning in each student. This involves letting students pursue their own interests, which she said can lead them naturally to a desire to create and share more in the classroom, even if they were not inclined to initially.
“If they are gravitating towards something that sparks their creativity and imagination, I want them to run with it,” she said. “So, I always encourage that one student to show me what they have. They might develop into his own character and he can create his own stories.”
At Half Moon Bay High School, art teachers and students went through a similar transformation and are adjusting as well. Department chair Sean Riordan and teacher Claire Gould are both teaching six art classes remotely this year. Gould said internet issues can be a barrier for teachers trying to observe a student's process from start to finish. Students upload pictures of work in-progress and final portfolios, but Gould noted the interaction leaves something to be desired.
“Now being online, there’s unfortunately not any way for students to see what other students are creating in the same class,” Gould said. “It’s just a barrier of interaction that has been difficult.”
Another challenge is access to materials. The Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival is one of the art department’s largest fundraisers, but with the event canceled last year, the department had to figure out how to budget for materials. Gould packaged to-go bags filled with paper, pencils and markers for all her 182 students last fall. The art teachers are currently getting ready for next semester when students will pick up supplies for sculpture and painting projects.
“We really don’t want the fact that we’re remote to take away from the overall experience that students would have had in-person,” Gould said. “We’re really doing our best to make sure every student has what they need to be creative, have fun, express themselves and learn cool techniques.”
Under normal circumstances, in-person classes let students bounce ideas off each other, see what their classmates are working on and get immediate feedback from the teacher. It’s an environment that can be practical for making art because everyone is working at the same time.
Gould recognized that art classes aren’t always on the top of some students’ priorities. But she’s noticed that throughout the year, students could use their art as “an escape from reality” while channeling their creative talents into assignments. Gould believes that even though the process is now remote, plenty of students are still capable of producing captivating work. The department is hoping to create a digital gallery to showcase student work in the future.
“I’ve been blown away by the amount of creativity, imagination, dedication and effort put into so many of the projects that I’ve taught this year,” Gould said. “It’s been really inspiring.”