IOWA CITY — Facing an uncertain school year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Longfellow Elementary art teacher Buffy Quintero set out with a team of fellow teachers to create an art curriculum for students taking classes both online and in person.
The Iowa City Community School District elementary art curriculum needed to require only supplies students might have on hand at home, Quintero noted. She also wanted it to include cultural responsiveness and diversity to meet students where they are, introduce them to a different world view or see themselves reflected in a famous artist.
Including diversity in her curriculum is “something that’s been essential to my philosophy as a teacher since before I even started teaching,” Quintero said.
“It’s really important to include (historically) marginalized voices in the curriculum as examples of exemplary artists. That wasn’t difficult to do at all,” she said.
Quintero was awarded the Elementary Art Educator of the Year by the Art Educators of Iowa, which has given awards every year to honor the best art educators in Iowa at the regional and national level since the 1950s.
Quintero built her curriculum around Longfellow Elementary’s school supply list, which students’ families are tasked with buying to prepare for every new school year. The list includes crayons, markers, glue sticks, scissors and colored pencils.
Fifth- and sixth-graders in Quintero’s art class are studying Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese-American artist who primarily works with patterns and is most known for her use of polka dots. The students are using Kusama’s work as inspiration to create pieces that examine what brings them joy, Quintero said.
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Third- and fourth-graders are studying Alma Woodsey-Thomas, an African American Expressionist painter known for her colorful abstract paintings during a time of segregation in America. Students are working in crayon to create bright, bold, vibrant and joyful pieces, Quintero said.
“It’s really important for students to see there is a huge diversity in people that could be considered the masters of art,” Quintero said.
Art is a way to empower students and be a “source of self-esteem” to be able to create something out of nothing, she said.
Quintero teaches about 600 students between her in-person and online classes, which is typical in any given year. She meets with online students once a week for 30 minutes and in-person students every other week for 50 minutes.
Students turn in assignments by taking pictures or scanning them and uploading them to their online student platform.
Quintero said that even though she has hundreds of students each year, she gets to work with them all through elementary school. “We have relationships that span years with the students,” she said.
With online classes, Quintero has students who would traditionally go to different elementary schools in the district. She was worried it would be difficult to connect with them in a virtual setting.
So far, she’s been impressed with the ways she has been able to build relationships.
Especially during a pandemic when the world feels upside down, Quintero said art should be a priority.
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“I feel like art is one of the great joys in life. It’s what makes us human, and you can find a way to incorporate art into your everyday life. That’s what I’m trying to teach the kids,” she said.
Quintero practices what she preaches. During the pandemic, she’s dabbled in different forms of art by working on developing skills as a dance and trick roller skater.
Quintero has a master’s degree in art education from the University of Iowa and has taught elementary, secondary and postsecondary art.
Before coming to the Iowa City school district, Quintero worked for eight years as an outreach coordinator for International Programs at the University of Iowa, where she developed internationally focused professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers.
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