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Education Opinion

Birth of the Art Club (or, my real dream of an environmental club)

By Jessica Shyu — September 19, 2006 2 min read

I’ll be honest: I wanted an environmental club. I wanted to sponsor an after-school club on water conservation and air pollution. I pictured myself gathering school children on sunny afternoons to learn about climate change. We could hook up with Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program and invite Navajo environmentalists to lead talks; we could have started recycling. It would have been grand.

Enthusiastically, I described my elaborate dreams to some fifth and eighth graders on the first day of school. They were kind enough to let me finish illustrating how we would pick up litter around the lake and discuss alternative energy sources. But after painting my spectacular plans, luckily I had the sense to ask them if anyone would join the club.

“Nope.”

“No.”

“Uhh…. no.”

And so, my dream was killed.

I was heartbroken, but only for a minute. I ventured to ask these students, this collection of loners and athletes and rockers, what they actually liked to do. And I wasn’t surprised by the majority of their responses.

“Drawing on paper.”

“Art.”

“Crafts and stuff is OK.”

And so that was that. Our Art Club was born.

The only problem is I hate crafts. I don’t like art. I have a hard time even writing straight on the blackboard. I go to far lengths to avoid doing crafty things and bless my artsy colleague who patiently, magically transforms magazines and construction paper into delicately arched roses and carnations that drape from the classroom door. Did I mention I hate arts and crafts? I have patience with children; not with scissors and glue.

But as I’ve quickly learned from my fellow teachers, many of whom double as my surrogate mothers out in the Southwest, it’s not about what the grown up wants to do— it’s about what the kids need. And according to our kids, they need art.

Art isn’t offered as a class at our school this year, but it doesn’t mean we can’t make it happen ourselves. Especially when the kids bring their own enthusiasm. Last week, we had our first Art Club meeting. Two teachers and I supervised the students between 3rd to 7th grades as they rolled colored clay and drew portraits of one another. I now have a collection of clay roses drying on my desk.

While I had no idea how to entertain the students at first, I should have known that they’d be the ones fueling the club’s energy. When asked what they wanted to do, the ideas wouldn’t stop pouring in. Sock puppets. Holiday cards. Halloween decorations. Oil painting. More clay. Even the other teachers got in on the fun. What about decoupage?

Our club meets weekly in my classroom. It isn’t fancy. It probably isn’t educational. And it most definitely doesn’t revolve around climate changes and alternative fuel sources. But the kids are happy. And for now, that is enough.

The opinions expressed in On the Reservation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.