Art education lives on at St. John Vianney, thanks to a long-standing commitment by the school and a new teacher who said she was blessed with the guidance of a local role model.
The result is a curriculum using 21st century teaching tools, enthused students and happy parents.
Dana Bach, in her first year as a full-time teacher, said she is happy to get the opportunity to teach.
"Everyone is so supportive," Bach said. "They cherish their fine arts program. I have a really big room, tons of storage space and a great budget."
Following in the footsteps of Robin Leenhauts, who retired after starting the art program 23 years ago, Bach uses an interactive Smart Board that the school gladly provided when she asked for it.
Variety of styles
She said she likes to "mix it up" when it comes to teaching so that she can tap into what works for the variety of learners she is discovering among the school's 478 students in 4-year-old kindergarten through eighth grades. Earlier this week, she taught fourth-graders how to sew a running stitch while making cloth "monsters" for Halloween. She already has introduced the works or Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
"For fifth grade, we learned drawing proportions of the face and we then got into the cubism phase of Picasso" Bach said. "The students loved it because they could get crazy and weird and add colors. They liked Salvador Dali because he was such a strange character."
Bach added that her lessons go beyond the act of creation.
"It's important to learn that history as well as the art," she said. "I give them a brief background so I feel like they leave the class knowing more."
Bach approaches teaching art as part of a continuum in preparing students for high school and beyond. She said art teaches creativity, decision making, reasoning and taking risks.
Teaching a wide range of grades requires thinking about the student as learner, she said. Most of her younger students have never been exposed to a formal art program, so she begins with the basics and the feel of working with brushes and pens. Continuing up the grades, Bach introduces more sophisticated elements of art, including using observation skills to recreate what is before them and then experiment and exercise creativity.
Blessed with inspiration
These are lessons she learned as a student at Dixon Elementary and Pilgrim Park Middle School. At both schools, her art teacher was Julie Stockinger, the current Pilgrim Park teacher.
"She really inspired me," Bach said. "She was a great teacher and a big reason why I first wanted to study art and why I want to teach."
Stockinger stayed in touch with Bach, attending her thesis art show at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2007.
Having lost contact in recent years, Stockinger was surprised and pleased to learn Bach was teaching in a neighboring school.
"Oh, my," she said. "I am so happy to hear that. Dana worked hard, and she always put a lot of thought in her work. I have kept up with a number of my students, but it is so nice to hear that I had an influence on her."
Parental thumbs up
Bach's presence also has been felt by parents who said their children are enthusiastic to be taught by her.
Kathy Adamson said she has noticed how her fourth-grade daughter, Tatum, talks about her art class.
"Especially with a child who is into art like Tatum," Adamson said, "you notice and appreciate the different approach."
Katie Gilson, parent of fifth-grader Annabel and third-grader Ainsleigh, said she is happy in two ways.
"First, I'm happy that the school has decided to continue its art program when other schools are cutting back," she said. "As a parent, I feel that Dana has done a lot to help students develop their cognitive as well as their creative skills."
Principal Pam Pyzyk said Dana's teaching strength includes collaborating with other teachers.
"She really believes in knowing what is being taught in the other subjects so that she can incorporate that into the art classes," Pyzyk said. "We knew she was the right choice when we interviewed and we are happy she is here."
What it's all about
It may be early for Bach to think about her own eventual influence on her students, but she has a goal.
"I hope to make an imprint on their education so they remember the things that they did," Bach said. "I still remember projects I did in fifth and sixth grades; I hope I can duplicate that."
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