Art department adapts courses for online learning

Andrew Tornetta’s home work space for art. Photo by Andrew Tornetta ’20.

How does a woodworking class function without any tools or wood? 

     After Governor Wolf’s March 19th order to shut down all schools in Pennsylvania, Haverford’s art department was forced to adapt its programs to an online format, just like all other departments. While this transition is difficult across all disciplines, art is a particularly tricky subject to adapt because of its very physical nature and the specific tools and supplies required. 

     Haverford’s art faculty have tried to solve all the issues that come with online learning.

     “This is a time in our lives where we are being asked to do uncomfortable things,” said Mr. Raeder, who teaches Visual Art Foundations, Ceramics, and 3D Design. “We were really hoping that we could just be in the studio the whole year.” 

     Following the governor’s order, students are now learning in distraction-filled home environments. Despite this, Mr. Raeder said, “I have to say, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the fact that students still want to learn. They’re still actively in a student mind-frame that includes being challenged and reaching to meet that challenge.”

     While they remain engaged, students still lack tools or a medium with which to express themselves artistically. 

     “We sent home art kits,” Mr. Raeder said. “I shipped some to my students that contained Sculpey, which is a plastic-based clay that does not contain water and can be hardened in an oven, as well as a sketchbook, some colored pencils, and some clay tools.” 

     Mr. Raeder plans for his students to use ovens for more than just clay. He has also considered including cooking in his curriculum, given the parallels between dough and clay: both are manipulated (kneaded or wedged, respectively), shaped, and heated (in an oven or kiln), and then finished. He still must consider how students will obtain their materials, since the department has no kits for cooking. 

     “I think there is a moral obligation to be thinking about asking students or their parents to go buy things or even have them delivered,” Mr. Raeder said. “Is it fair, or even safe, for me to ask my students to go get flour or instant yeast?”

     Other Upper School art instructors —  Mr. Fox, Mr. Ressler, and Ms. Brown — have all had their own challenges with adapting their projects and activities so students can complete them from the safety of their own homes. 

     “It’s definitely different not having the same connection with the students anymore,” said Ms. Brown, who teaches Visual Art Foundations and Digital Art I and II.

     Her classes were less impacted by the change than others in the art department due to their inherently digital nature, so her concerns were more focused on student-teacher relations and her students’ well-being. 

“Everybody’s been super creative with how they’ve reimagined their classes online.”

Ms. Kristin BRown

     “I’ve been really impressed with the art department as a whole, because I feel like everybody’s been super creative with how they’ve reimagined their classes online,” Ms. Brown said. “When we first came back from spring break, I decided to take part of the lesson offline, since we’ve been having too much screen time: I did a mindfulness lesson and we did Zentangles and drawing.”

     Ms. Brown also acutely feels the loss of community following the shutdown. 

     “I’ve been thinking about how we’ve built a community over this past year and how we can continue that community,” Ms. Brown said. “We’ve all made Instagram accounts, and we document our life each day we have school: highs and lows — mostly all highs — as well as the food we’re eating, dogs that we’re hanging out with, fun walks we’re going on, and the beauty of Spring. It’s really nice to see what everyone’s doing in their own little world at home, and being able to comment and give each other support during this time.”

     Ms. Brown also appreciates her colleagues’ efforts to adapt their instruction. Describing Mr. Ressler’s Woodworking and 3D Design classes, Ms. Brown said, “Mr. Ressler has been really creative. With his 3D Design class, he’s been working in Minecraft. They’ve been building and communicating, and one of the students remade the woodshop in Minecraft, and that’s where they meet. I think that’s absolutely brilliant. He brought this beloved game that people have played since childhood and elevated it to a complex way to look at architecture and building.” 

     The Haverford School’s art department has done an impressive job of adapting to teaching without the tools, materials, workshops, and studios that their discipline typically employs.

     “When we were thinking about going online, it seemed a little daunting, but once you realize that this is the new normal, you can embrace it and figure out how to celebrate it, and we can make it work the best we can,” Ms. Brown said. “I’ve been very surprised and humbled by how well everybody in the art department has taken this puzzle and successfully engaged and connected with students over the past two weeks.”

Author: Tucker Wurman '20

Tucker Wurman '20 writes as a part of the journalism seminar. He's a student who has no real specific disciplinary focus, but takes classes across math, science, history, foreign languages, and English in equal measure. That doesn't stop him from being interested in mostly math and computer science for career options, though.