“I want to engage kids while they’re sitting at home. I want them to experience art for normalcy. We are all scared, and confused,” said Cassie Stephens in an interview with Good Morning America.
Stephens is an art teacher from Franklin Special School District in Franklin Tennessee, where she has taught elementary school students for 21 years. When she was told that her school, along with all the other schools in Tennessee, would be closed until early April, she wanted to keep her students engaged, keep something scheduled and fun and integrated in their lives.
Moving swiftly, Stephens organized a virtual art class on Facebook and Instagram. Episodes will air live every weekday, from 11-11:30 am CST. Currently, the theme of the lessons is robots, with robot coloring sheets, robot drawing tips, and robot writing assignments. Next week, there will be a new topic. Over 30,000 students and parents logged on to watch her first lessons, nearly four times the total population of her school district.
While officially, Tennessee schools are planning to return in early or mid-April, many states have simply opted to cancel the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, in a never-seen-before disruption of education. It’s for a good reason – children are under-effected by COVID-19 but are highly effective carriers of any infection – but that many months of disruption are still going to have life-long effects on the educational engagement of a generation of youth.
We see it in refugee camps – students who miss more than six months of school due to a disaster are at risk of never fully engaging with their own education again. Building impromptu coursework like this, consistent and achievable, keeps them from disengaging. And that it’s art is immeasurably valuable too – the arts are usually the first thing to be discarded in any kind of adversity.