Angel Mejico, one of the 2019 California Teachers of the Year, talks about what drives her as an educator and how she connects with students and colleagues. Mejico teaches art at El Cerrito Middle School in Corona and is a Corona-Norco Teachers Association member.
Each day in the “Art Barn” is a new canvas. Students observe, create and critique art from around the globe. As artists, they begin with basic shapes and skills, and over time evolve to express themselves in greater detail.
Art as a path to life skills
An important life skill students develop in the Art Barn is empathy. They’re often given a famous artist’s name and must create a piece of art using the same techniques as their given artist. This allows them to learn about the artist, the historical time period they lived in, and put themselves into the mind of the artist to understand art from their perspective. This helps them develop empathy and keep an open mind to differences and world views.
Another life skill students learn is to let their art tell a story. Art can express feelings and make connections with the audience without the student having to speak. Through this creativity, students also learn problem-solving — part of the process in developing artistic skills.
One of the most important life skills students can develop is to trust in their abilities. By encouraging my students to take risks and be fearless when expressing themselves through their work, confidence and trust in their abilities soars.
Tech and new media
In the Art Barn, technology is everywhere. I have oversized photography to incorporate interests in travel and art in photography. We have a “Light Box Bar” where students use light boxes to sketch fine details of commissioned projects. Students throw clay and sculpt ceramics on electric pottery wheels, and fire their projects in the kiln. We have two computers where students use Adobe to create fantastic photography. By integrating technology into the curriculum, students designed cinematography, animatronics and projection mapping on a 33-foot “Tree of Life” during our annual Art Expo.
Art and the broader curricula
Research has shown that incorporating art into rigorous curriculums can bolster academic performance, promote high-level thinking and creativity, increase self-confidence and helps change campus culture by increasing school pride. This has happened on my campus.
I created the Art Expo four years ago, and it has evolved into a 900-piece art exhibit with a performing arts concert on the night of open house. I collaborate with our staff to incorporate art in all core subjects. Teachers now have assignments and projects that infuse art into their core teaching. Students from numerous disciplines — math, history, language arts, science, band, choir, PE, home economics, AVID, the Art Academy, special needs, and industrial technology — submit art for the Art Expo.
At El Cerrito, we encourage students to take ownership of their learning. They experience success and mastery in other ways than just formal assessments when teachers integrate art into daily lessons and projects.
Helping students find their purpose
When paint is held above a canvas and slowly tipped, it free-falls, trusting the path to splatter onto the surface below. It has a purpose, it is deliberate, it moves to a destination. No two splatters are identical; each follows its destiny to share color and the personality that emerges. My students are like paint decorating canvas — unique! They each have a purpose.
Art can be considered a do-over subject, similar to life. Students can cut out, erase, paint over, and try again to ensure they can create their vision, dreams and purpose. Art has a way of extracting from students their deepest and innermost thoughts in creative and unique expressions. By the end of my class, students will have discovered how to infuse the elements of art and principles of design into their art pieces. They will also know the purpose their art serves. Some dedicate their art to someone, or use it to set goals or as a road map. Some simply create art because they have found one thing that makes them happy, their reason to come to school. They have found their purpose.
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