RICHLAND HILLS — Reba Burkhart praised her second-grade students as they used special crayons to draw animals and shapes.“We’re in art to have fun,” Burkhart told her students at Richland Elementary School.The students agreed, shouting enthusiastically when Burkhart asked them about some of the basic art concepts, such as texture and color.Burkhart continued. What shapes do you see in this picture? “Triangles. Circles. Squares,” several students said.Art instruction hasn’t always been emphasized at Birdville’s 21 elementary campuses. While it’s always been a part of the curriculum, teachers — already busy with helping children master subjects such as science and math — only included art lessons when time allowed, and volunteers filled in the gaps when they could.Middle and high school students got consistent art education, but the elementary schools lagged behind. But Danny Detrick, the Birdville’s school district’s fine arts director, said art instruction is no longer on the back burner in the grade schools.This year, the Birdville school district hired eight education aides, all with art backgrounds — who will travel to each elementary school and teach art so that the teachers can spend more time working on their lesson plans for the “core subjects” like reading and science.Detrick said that volunteers would go to the different schools to help the teachers, but some campuses wound up with more volunteers than others.“This gives us a level playing field where students will get the same type of instruction,” he said.Art as problem solvingThe eight education aides will travel to each elementary school in the district, meaning that students will have an art class approximately every two weeks.According to the U.S. Department of Education, some schools have lagged behind in providing art classes because of the No Child Left Behind requirements to focus on academics.Many of the school districts in Fort Worth and Dallas have placed more emphasis on art education in grade schools. Tamra Alami, who coordinates elementary art instruction for the Texas Art Education Association and who is an art teacher at Haun Elementary in Plano, said funding cutbacks have also led to districts reducing the amount of art education.“I think it is terrific what Birdville is doing,” she said.Nancy Guffey, an arts specialist with the Birdville schools, said if children are exposed to music and art they often perform better on college board tests.The students are also better equipped to handle problem-solving, and their social skills improve. Students also develop good hand-eye coordination, she said.‘Outside the boundaries’Alami added that children are often visual learners, and that being exposed to art will help them in other areas, such as math and science.“Imagination and creativity help children grow. Where would Apple be, or where would Google be, if it weren’t for imagination to go outside the boundaries,” she said. Gail Carlson, who was hired this year to travel to the elementary schools, said she initially didn’t get a teaching certificate, but she had an art degree with an emphasis in graphic design.Carlson worked in advertising agencies and for a graphic designer, but she said she wasn’t happy and thought about teaching art.Carlson, a stay-at-home mom, realized art programs were lacking when her children started kindergarten. She began volunteering to teach art in the district, and now gets to teach more students.“I love it. It was very exciting as kids weren’t getting very much art,” she said.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz