Learning How to Learn Through Art
ESP Spotlight: Esther Smith, Idaho Falls Education Association
Teaching art is more than just a job for Esther Smith. It’s also her way of passing along a methodology that sparked her love of learning to a new generation of students. As a student herself at AH Bush Elementary School in Idaho Falls, Smith struggled with traditional academic subjects—until she discovered an interest in art, which led to renewed interest in other subjects. “I learned how to learn through art,” she says.
Fast forward to 2017, and Smith can be found in the art room at the very same school, imparting her wisdom and passion, and watching young students grow and learn before her eyes. It is a role that she did not envision when she agreed to help out as a once-a-week volunteer art teacher a few years ago. She was asked by one of her former teachers, longtime IEA and IFEA leader Zoe Jorgensen, to share her expertise while juggling being a mom to five kids of her own. “I just loved the vibe of the school and the chance to help them embrace art as a part of their learning.”
It was such a good fit that Smith jumped at the chance to join the teaching staff full-time when Jorgensen and several other teachers lobbied to bring her on board in a more substantial role. While she is working toward obtaining her certification, Smith is currently identified as a para-educator—as are all the district’s elementary specialists—art, physical education, and music teachers, and librarians. “Our paras enrich students so much in areas I just can’t hit,” says Jorgensen, who has taught at Bush for 35 years and is a career-long IEA member.
The Idaho Falls School District is making moves to prioritize art instruction, however, adding art to the curriculum this year for the first time ever. It is a much-needed step, according to Smith. “The difference between students who have even minimal art instruction and those who don’t is staggering,” she says. “In many cases we even need to show young students how to use crayons and scissors.”
Smith has taken things a step further by serving as an elementary art advisor for the district as it searches for the appropriate curriculum for the fledgling art program. “I felt like it was important to have an art teacher on the committee, and I wanted a say in what I was teaching,” Smith says. The district has also engaged the Idaho Falls Art Museum to help design the curriculum, and Smith is serving as a liaison between the schools and the museum staff. Providing classroom management skills to other art teachers is yet another way that she is advocating for her profession and for students.
As a team, Esther and Zoe have attended professional development events, such as one at the Boise Art Museum where they studied the concept of turning science into art, with Smith providing the art expertise and Jorgensen the science background. They also worked together to obtain a grant from Crayola and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, which meant $1,000 of Crayola products and $2,500 in school supplies (sketch books, watercolors) for students.
Things have really come full circle for IEA ESP member Esther Smith, from her days as a student at Bush Elementary School to children of her own attending the school to preparing the next generation of students with relevant art instruction. She is just one of the many examples of how ESP members make a difference for students, schools, and communities.