–by David Schleck
–by David Schleck
What an artistic sweep! Three Virginia Beach teachers recently received statewide Art Educators of the Year at the Virginia Art Education Association Fall Professional Development Conference:
- High School – Jessica Van Veenhuyzen, Cox High
- Middle School – Andrew “Andy” Harris, Old Donation School
- Retired – Stephanie Slate, Tallwood and Thoroughgood elementary schools
These award-winning educators were kind enough to answer some questions about their love of teaching…
How would you describe your approach/philosophy to teaching?
Van Veenhuyzen: Anyone can do art; everyone has the right to create. I see art as more of a therapy, especially in the past couple years. I also always seek out ways to get kids out of the classroom; so many students will never get the opportunity or take the time to go to a museum. Art is a universal language; exposing students to the arts is also teaching them about culture and communication.
Harris: Everything I teach my students comes in the form of a suggestion, they can take it or leave it, but what’s important about this is that they ultimately learn to make a decision. This supports one of my art studio mantras – decide, act, accept. If they make a “bad” painting, so what! The process they went to is the building block for a future work. Plus, bad paintings actually sell pretty well.
Slate: As an elementary art educator my approach is to expose young children to art through many mediums and techniques. We‘re building basic skills used in the art room, from tearing paper to holding a paintbrush. Many students have never been exposed to the arts, and I believe introducing them to art through artmaking and connecting art to areas of literature, history, science and math makes them a well-rounded individual.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
Van Veenhuyzen: I love the students. I love getting to know them through their work. I often say the art teacher knows more about the students than anyone. Art allows students to express themselves when they can’t, or don’t want to, communicate using words. I also love showing students how to make art they can be proud of.
Harris: I worked with this one student who had an obsession with shoes, so I took that and we ran with it. One week I got sick and had to be out, I left directions for my substitute. On Monday when I returned to school, there on the easel was this beautiful chalk pastel drawing of a pair of shoes sitting in sunlight. I looked at this drawing and for whatever reason started crying. I mean this kid did it all on his own. At this point he was in his own world and had found his sweet spot and was really doing it. I think that made me realize the impact I could have on another human being if I was smart about it, if I really took time to examine how we spend our time together.
Slate: I enjoy everything about being an elementary art teacher! I enjoy their excitement when they enter the art room to watching the creative process at work in their little minds. I love seeing the finished art project and how proud they are of their work!
How would you describe what led you to be an art educator?
Van Veenhuyzen: I Easy question. I was a horrible student. I suffered from undiagnosed disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia, which made me feel inadequate. The one class I excelled in was art. I wasn’t embarrassed to show my talent. I decided in high school that one day I too would create an environment where students felt safe and valued. Once I was on my own and began traveling and befriending people from all walks of life, I realized the importance of art and travel in education. I am so lucky to wake up every day and do what I love!
Harris: Teaching art checks two of the boxes I set for myself in my 20s – find a job where you can help people and find a job where you can be creative. I have found that teaching and inspiring young artists to use their creativity is the perfect fit for me, it feeds something inside that I can’t quite put into words.
How do you feel about being recognized as “Art Educator of the Year”?
Slate: Honored. There are many great art teachers at the beach. With over 600 kids a week we stay very busy, but love our jobs and little artists!
Van Veenhuyzen: I am totally flattered, as there are so many teachers that don’t get the recognition they deserve. Any kind of praise or recognition I try to direct towards the kids. It’s been a very humbling experience that I am indescribably grateful for.
Harris: It was an amazing feeling to be recognized and honored in such a way. I pretty much stay in the teaching and artmaking grind – writing, experimenting, facilitating, re-writing, trying new things – so to be recognized for the work I feel no one sees makes everything make sense in some way.
And now, here are what some fans are saying about these teachers…
Alexandra Nibble, former student: Mrs. Jessica Van Veenhuyzen has certainly taught me, but she has also instilled in me a lifelong passion, a belief in myself and my creative individuality and abilities, an awareness of my community and the world, and she is a role model and support who has seen me through my high school years and shaped me into the person who is going to college to pursue more.
Dr. Kelly Hedrick, principal, Old Donation School: Mr. Harris gives his students complex and open-ended tasks that are conceptual and require creative risk-taking. He speaks to every child with respect as he listens to their ideas, considers solutions and techniques with them, and he never takes the challenge away from them.
Susan E. Schutte, Art teacher, Tallwood High: Stephanie came out of retirement to fill a one day a week art teaching position in Virginia Beach City Public Schools so the students could have art even if it had to be “virtual art” since we started the 2020-2021 school year online only. Stephanie is a dedicated art teacher. It’s in her blood, it’s who she is even in retirement.