The 2020-21 school year has posed challenges for all teachers regardless of subject. Be it the Hybrid or Distance Learning model, Oakdale Joint Unified teachers like others throughout the country have had to become more flexible as well as creative with teaching their designated subjects or lesson plans.
“You know it’s really tricky. In junior high, it’s not a kindergarten class where they’re excited to have their cameras on and they all want to talk,” Oakdale Junior High Art teacher Kim McCarthy shared. “Junior high is some kids have their cameras on and some kids don’t want to have their cameras on.”
Acknowledging the challenge, McCarthy has gotten creative, as an art teacher.
“I think art in general is an amazing outlet for kids, especially in the time we’re in,” the second year OJHS art teacher shared. “Not that art isn’t always a really great means. When you’re having a really hard time and you’re not able to see your friends and you’re feeling isolated or alone I think having art to be able to put those emotions and those feelings onto a page is such a gift.”
Passionate about the subject, as well as her students, early this school year, McCarthy created an Instagram Account to help the students share their work in a more public forum. The page entitled oakdalejuniorhighart8 is managed and maintained by McCarthy, with the help of eighth grade art student, 13-year-old Yulissa Palacios.
“Yulissa was amazing. She was super helpful in this process,” McCarthy said.
The result is an ongoing platform for student art.
“My main goal this year, was how can I get the kids to have an art show without us really being able to be in person,” the art teacher shared. “With the Instagram account they can put anything that is meaningful to them up there. I think it’s what kids really need right now, to encourage them to keep going.”
McCarthy added that with just 30 minutes of class time via Distance Learning, it was important to her to find a way for the first time art students to share their self-expression efforts with a broader audience. The students submit the work in threes via e-mail to McCarthy, who then forwards the work to Yulissa to share on the Instagram account.
“I told each student if they wanted to add art work, to add three pieces of art work on the Instagram page,” the eighth grader explained, noting the algorithm for the social media forum is three across, so this would aid in the organization of the page.
“Getting to see their pride, their … ‘I did this,’ is really wonderful too,” McCarthy added.
The teacher said while she hasn’t given up hope on an in person show (with distancing guidelines), this forum at minimum gives students the opportunity to share their work. She also shared thoughts of finding it interesting that many students have noted they feel less pressure to try to fit in, no feeling of being bullied or not fitting in as distance learning has progressed.
“It’s hard in a totally different way,” she said of teaching via Distance Learning. “I think teaching is always hard, because you want to empower these kids, you want them to feel good about themselves, you want them to learn and grow and achieve. That’s the goal.”
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Yulissa added. “It could be better in person. Ms. McCarthy is doing her best trying to make it fun and entertaining on-line. She’s very understanding. She’s just a great teacher overall.”
Yet struggles and new format aside, McCarthy shared her gratitude toward teaching a subject she is passionate about.
“It’s amazing,” she said of teaching art. “I feel like it’s such a gift. To be able to teach what you love, I feel like it’s the greatest gift anyone could ever give me.”
In closing, the former Knights Ferry elementary teacher and two year OJHS Art teacher spoke to the current climate in education and the challenges.
“This is a stressful time. It’s a stressful time for kids, it’s a stressful time for parents,” she said of the current learning model. “When you’re always kind of on top of each other, just in this ball of stress you need a release. I don’t have all the answers; I just know what I’m seeing. I will be grateful to hang out with my students in person, but I’m grateful to see them on Zoom as well.”