Heather Hills Elementary School’s arts program gets burnished with new instructor -- Gazette.Net


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A new portrait of the art program at Heather Hills Elementary School is emerging.

After months without an art teacher, during which time parents helped fill in as art instructors, the Bowie school has welcomed a new leader for its art program.

Keema Johnson, an interrelated arts teacher, took over the program at Heather Hills on Nov. 12 as the school’s new part-time art teacher. Johnson, a resident and native of Fort Washington, will split her time between Bowie, Longfields Elementary School in Forestville and Perrywood Elementary in Largo.

Students at Heather Hills will get art instruction about four times a year, said Johnson, who said she likely would return to the school in January.

Johnson, a 2001 Bowie State University alumna, joined Heather Hills after the previous teacher left to take a full-time art position elsewhere in the school system, said Principal Patsy Hosch.

Students did receive some art instruction between teachers; the school’s Parent Teacher Organization was able to recruit 12 parents to fill in as substitute art teachers between Sept. 18 and Sept. 27. Working in teams, the parents taught 14 40-minute classes in which children worked with a variety of materials, such as oil pastels, said Alexandra Calloway, chairwoman of the PTO’s art committee.

The experience was unusual for parents, Calloway said.

“Some of the parents who volunteered were a little hesitant because they weren’t sure if they had the skills to lead on something like this,” she said. “I'd love to do it again. The parents all said, ‘Hey, this isn't so bad. I could lead a class on my own.’”

All of the efforts are aimed at getting the children more exposure to art, Calloway said.

“It’s such an important part of their day,” she said. “It gives them a break from math and all the hard-core subjects. It gives them an opportunity to think differently”.

Fifth-grader Michael Wooden, 10, of Bowie worked with fellow students on pastels to create drawings that featured and yet camouflaged various animals hidden within them.

“Art is pretty fun because we do stuff you mostly can’t do [at home] or don’t think of doing,” he said.

Art classes were a nice break from the norm, said fifth-grader Alyssa Proctor, 9, of Bowie.

“I’d like to have more art time, but they want us to learn more math and science,” she said.

The children tend to love art, said Eric Harris, a fifth-grade math teacher, whose class was turned into an art studio Nov. 19.

“[Teachers] don’t have the training to do art for the kids,” he said. “I wish we had a full-time art teacher, not just a part time.”

The Prince George’s County Public Schools system pays for a part-time teacher, but the school would have to pay for a full-time position from its own resources under the student-based budgeting method, which makes the bulk of a school’s funding support based on its student population, Hosch said.

“If we were going to make her full time, we would have to supplement the rest of her salary,” she said. “That's not possible.”

Given Johnson’s availability, parents still are keen on assisting, either by helping to finish multi-day art projects Johnson starts or by acting as aids in the classroom, Calloway said.

“We realize that right now, this is a transition time for her, so we’re giving her time to set up and giving her space,” she said.”I'm expecting that over the next month, between now and January, we'll be hearing more and putting a plan together and working to make Ms. Johnson's job easier for her and make it beneficial to the students.”

amccombs@gazette.net