Keech wants art teachers for all elementary schools 16 more hires would be needed

David Lancaster grits his teeth in concentration and slowly draws an oval on blue construction paper. In a few minutes he'll paint it tan, add some eyes and a nose and top it with a feathered headdress.

David and the 20 other energetic 6-year-olds are busy drawing an American Indian, resplendent with a beaded necklace and war paint, because it's Thanksgiving.


But the students at Jarrettsville Elementary also are learning about shapes, how to use brushes and follow directions, says art teacher Linda Milano.

Many other county elementary students miss those lessons. Because of a shortage of art teachers, only about half of Harford's elementary students have art classes.


Now, Superintendent Ray R. Keech wants to add 16 art teachers next year, so all elementary schools have one and all children have art classes.

"Let's finish what we started and hire 16 art teachers to complete the program, rather than adding just three or four teachers each year," Mr. Keech recently told a group of parents, teachers and administrators at Bel Air Middle School.

Harford schools began an elementary art program about five years ago and have so far hired 14 art elementary teachers, said Marianne Chambers, supervisor for art in Harford County. But that's not enough to staff the county's 27 elementary schools. Two more elementary schools will open next year.

Thus, some schools, like Norrisville Elementary in Whitehall, must share an art teacher with another school. Schools such as Bakersfield Elementary in Aberdeen have no art teacher. And other schools like Homestead/Wakefield and Youth's Benefit have art teachers but not enough for all students to have art classes.

Pat McGrady, a member of the cultural arts committee at Bakersfield Elementary, said getting the school an art teacher is a priority.

"Art helps children develop concrete skills, like reading and writing," she said. "It also helps children express themselves. Little children don't have a lot of vocabulary, so art is one way for them to reach out to the world around them."

And children who don't get art could get left behind.

"Art is taught progressively, like stair steps, and children who miss astep have lost something really valuable," said Pat Jones, legislative chairwoman of the PTSA at Jarrettsville Elementary school.


Mrs. Milano, the art teacher at Jarrettsville, said lessons learned in art class often span the entire curriculum, complementing other classes.

"Fourth-graders are learning about Maryland history so they'll be weaving real baskets, making Indian ceremonial figures to help them learn about the Indians who lived in this area," she said.

Second-grade children studying outer space will get to make cardboard robots, she said.

In addition to broadening students' education, art classes give regular classroom teachers more planning time, said Margaret Goodson, Norrisville Elementary principal.

"Our teachers are asked to do so many new things [that] they need that time to plan," she said.

Art classes range from about 30 minutes for kindergartners to 45 minutes for older children.


Mrs. Goodson said the school's 211 students get an art class each week. The school shares art teacher Donna Birkmaier with North Bend Elementary.

Norrisville, like most of the county's older schools, doesn't have an art classroom. Ms. Birkmaier, like some other elementary art teachers, does "art on a cart," wheeling supplies from class to class.

At Magnolia Elementary, art teacher Christian Roth got a choice: art on a cart or art on the stage.

Mr. Roth, Magnolia Elementary's first art teacher when he came to the school two years ago, said he prefers teaching on the stage to hauling supplies from room to room.

"It's only inconvenient during assemblies when I have to put everything away," he said. The school has more than 500 students.

"With my own area, I don't have to worry about forgetting supplies or making a mess when I go into another teacher's room," he said.


"Most of the classrooms have carpeting. On the stage we don't have to worry about making a mess. We keep the tabletops clean, but the floor, who cares?"

MA Sometimes children or parents wonder when kids will be making

cotton ball bunnies or drawing turkeys for Thanksgiving, Mr. Roth said.

But art, even for elementary pupils, is more complex. This year, for example, children at Magnolia Elementary will learn about drawing, sculpture and ceramics.