PALATINE, Ill. – Art education in grade schools has historically struggled with resources and funding. As millions turn to the arts to deal with stress and anxiety, educators are being forced to stretch the limits of their creativity. This fall, they say teaching acting, music and art will be more challenging than ever.
“We do lots of different things. We do ceramics. We do 3D sculpture. We do drawing and painting. And it's really a hands-on program,” said elementary school art teacher Paul Dombrowski.
Dombrowski is two years away from retirement and trying to relearn how to teach.
“COVID, it has really turned the educational world upside down and we're kind of baptism by fire of having to figure out what we're going to do and how we can service these kids,” he said.
High school theater director Britnee Kenyon’s district decided on a full remote program weeks ago.
“For me, that meant really reconfiguring our entire theater program, theatrical season, everything, because as most people know theater needs an audience and theater needs people,” said Kenyon.
One of her six productions had to be eliminated. She’s now dealing with streaming rights to put on her productions online.
But the recent streaming success of “Hamilton” has proven that the show can go on.
“It's not in the way that we expected but we can still do theater and families can watch it,” said Kenyon. “Maybe on the bright side, families from all over the country will now be able to watch it.”
She’s still working out how her acting students will learn, rehearse and perform this year.
“Not being able to play theater games together, not being able to make eye contact with a human being and believe that they're making eye contact with you back, because you're actually looking at your screen, that in and of itself is a conundrum that will be really interesting to figure out,” said Kenyon.
For Dombrowski, a diabetic making him high-risk for getting coronavirus, his classes will all be virtual.
“I'm kind of scared to have to teach it through the computer,” he said. “I'm looking at a screen of 28 children. It's really an impersonal thing. It's hard to make connections with the kids that way.”
Even more challenging is that he may be instructing students from all of the schools in the district with differing resources and abilities.
“We have 4,000 children that are going to be working from home and some may have a piece of notebook paper and a pencil. Others may have every marker and watercolor set that you can imagine,” said Dombrowski.
Online or in-person, the ultimate goal for these educators, they say, is to create a special space for all their students.
“A place where they can come and know they're safe and when they leave my classroom, I want them to feel like they're the best artist in the world,” said Dombrowski.
Kenyon says she will do the best she can.
“I hope this ends up being something that we can look back on and say it was a horrible time in our history. But look at how far we've come.”