Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Frustration

I retired three years ago.  I wasn't tired of making art with kids.  I was tired of all the other stuff: the nonsense being shoved down my throat by administration, the state regulations, the assessments, the Essential Questions, the SLO's, the so-called professional development that never related to art education, the data, the lunch duty, the requisitions for next year's supplies (due in February when there's still a half year of school to go), and more.  I was tired of making doctor and dentist appointments in the late afternoon and racing to get there on time.  I was tired of booking vacations when everyone else is on vacation.  I was tired of being exhausted of Friday nights, and I was tired of grocery shopping on Saturdays when the stores are crowded.
But I wasn't tired of making art with kids.  As a matter of fact, it was just the opposite.  I had so many projects I wanted to do again, and so many new ideas I wanted to share with students.  So I needed a plan to make art with kids, on my own time, with my own rules.  Just hands-on mess-making activities.  Papier-mache, paint, collage, weaving, mask-making, and more more more.  Low tuition; just enough to pay for the materials and other costs.
My plan involved opening my own business, DragonWing Arts.  I put the plan in motion about 2-1/2  years ago.  The plan was (and still is) to have classes of students grades 3-6, or ages 8-11ish, for weekly classes in a session of between 5 and 8 weeks.  Each multi-week session would be based on a theme.  I had/have so many ideas for themes.  By the way, all photos in this post are from my DragonWing Arts classes.  Our themes thus far  have included All About the Face, Around the World, Marvelous Mess,
 But the big challenge continues to be finding students.  I do not live in the community where I taught, so I do not know the children.  My friends do no not have young children.  So I have tried, with varying degrees of success, advertising in a local weekly newspaper, contacting area art teachers, and sending flyers home in backpacks.  The schools have been a challenge, often refusing to allow flyers to be sent out for a fee-based program.  I have fluctuated between 5 and 3 students per session. I had some repeat students.  But this fall, my repeat students have all just started 5th grade, which is in the middle school, and the school and their schedules are new to them and their parents say there's too much going on for them to commit to the art classes.  So every time I latch onto a student for a year or two, it seems they "age out" because of the demands of middle school.
I believe, ironically, that my program is more important than ever. My students, who came from several local schools, had universal complaints about their school art programs.  They rarely did anything messy; rarely painted.  They've never touched papier-mache before they came to my class.  They've drawn and colored with pencils and markers.  They have never done weaving.  They have imaginations and creativity waiting to be unlocked.
 In two and a half years, we've made 3-D painted paper weaving, we've hammered nails to make rain sticks, we've experimented with salt and watercolor and we've marbled with shaving cream; we've learned basic perspective, made toothpaste batiks, giant masks, and stocking/wire sculptures; we've made papier-mache flying pigs, Darumas, rain sticks, and ice cream cones; we've built giant eyeballs, painted paper, made papier-mache pulp reliefs, tie-dyed coffee filter flowers, and held art shows for the parents.
And this fall, the plan was for papier-mache garden gnomes and gnome home doors in tree stumps or mushrooms (large, with more papier-mache and all sorts of fun embellishment).  I was totally excited.  Yet, suddenly, I found myself with only one student signed up and as of today, I've had to cancel the fall session.  I am frustrated, disheartened.  I want these smiling happy faces back in my little classroom. 
 I advertised the program for three weeks, and didn't receive even one response from the ad.  School hadn't started yet, so I couldn't even attempt the backpack battle.  It seems like the stress of school has gotten worse, and when you are working with a clientele that "ages out", you need to continually find new "clients". 
 I don't expect you to offer me any solutions.  What works in your community might not work in mine..  I just wanted to share my frustration.  Meanwhile, I'll keep plugging along, and hope that this winter I may find a new batch of students. 

18 comments:

  1. I completely understand your "aging out" dilemma. The average age of my art students has gotten younger (age 6) as other after school activities demand more of their time. I hope you find a new batch of students this winter. How lucky are the kids that get to be Your art students!

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    1. Yes. And I teach in what is officially the "library" upstairs in my Temple. I have a key to the building, and I am frequently the only person there during the hours of my class/prep/cleanup. The office is closed, though there's an occasional meeting downstairs. Because of this, I'm not comfortable bringing in younger kids, since there's nobody but me and the students. This past year, I did allow one second grader, and he was awesome, but I only allowed him because his older brother was attending, he is a student in the Temple religious school, and his parents are both active on the Temple board, so he is very familiar with/comfortable with the building. I adore working with that age kid, but I just would hate someone to be scared, especially since it can be pretty dark out in the wintertime. I lock the outside door so nobody can get in who doesn't have a key. The parents all know this and have my cell phone # in case they need to pick someone up early or are late dripping off. It has worked out OK. I have a tiny old dollhouse of a home, with no place at all to hold the classes, so I'm very thankful that my relationship with the Temple has been so good.

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  2. It has to be difficult generating "business" outside of the area where you actually taught. I imagine that "word of mouth" would be the best way to find new students. It sounds like you have done some pretty extensive "reaching out" and you never can tell when that will pay off in interested students/parents. I wish you good luck with your efforts in the months to come!!
    This may not be a solution for you, but here's a thought to consider: A former student teacher of mine started tutoring a number of years ago. She was working in an affluent area, where kids had a lot of programmed after school things going on (sometimes more than one) daily. She was one of those after school events. It was also adjacent to an area where home schooling was popular. She was hired to work twice a week with a small group (I think 4) kids teaching them social studies and art. She has an art background, so she integrated the two as much as possible. This meant that her class was not limited to the after school hours. She started out, however, going to them rather than have them come to her -- difficult when you want to teach messy art. I saw her recently and now she is working full time with home schoolers who come to her daily!! I don't know how you would feel about opening up to the home-school population, if you have kids in your area that are in that situation or even how you would go about advertising to them (maybe through the internet?), but it might be something to think about.

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    1. You know, I thought about the home-schoolers last year, and had trouble figuring out how to tap into their network. I know they are out there! It's certainly an excellent idea for me to think about pursuing again. Thanks for the reminder!

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  3. In my small town the best way to get the word out about things is to put them on the town Facebook page. It is sadly the only way to get stuff out to the public.

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    1. I've recently been added to a local Hulafrog website and that might help eventually. Honestly I never thought of a town Facebook page and I'm not sure it exists, but I'm going to check right now! Thank you!

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  4. Phyl~ I can empathize completely! In June I completed my 6th year sharing my after school ART Experience classes with kids excited about art and expanding what they may be learning or not learning in school. My program also has expanded to home school kids and I am lucky enough to have a dear friend who has started a sort of home school co op where I teach different art classes- some to enhance science or history classes. This year, many of my after school kids are either aging out or just busy with other after school activities (sports, dance, clubs). I've got flyers that will go up in some of the local businesses and I also have a Facebook page that I post my flyer and info on. I'm also looking into the town pages- there are more than 1 for our town! Don't be disheartened! I keep telling myself, If I build it, they will come!!! ;) I've been inspired many years with your work and lessons- I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

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    1. Thanks, sweetie! I have a Facebook page for the classes, and ironically, I am not able to post flyers. No idea what I'm doing wrong; I can post jpegs- photos- but no docs. Great.

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    2. Phyl, about posting your flyers- I usually take a screenshot of the flyer and post it as a jpeg on my page! The viewers are usually able to click on it and get a closer look! I have such a love/hate relationship with the computer, but I just try to figure out how to get what I need at the moment! So a screen shot of the flyer- I know it may look strange if it's a trifold, but it works getting it out there!!!

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  5. Just wondering if you'd mind if I tried using a course like your "face" class? As I read your post I came up with about 15 different things! I'm thing of calling it "It's All About That Face!"

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    1. Of course I don't mind. But ironically, that's EXACTLY what I called the face class. I even had the kids singing "because you know, I'm all about that face, 'bout the face, no elbows", sung to, obviously, the tune of Meghan Trainor's adorable song!

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    2. Thank you!! I'm going to try to give it a go soon! I'll keep you posted! I'll be singing that all day long!!! Enjoy the sunshine!

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  6. I find it so sad that these kids "age out"---some children would simply FLOURISH more in art than any sport their parents put them in...guess it will always be a challenge in that sense....sigh!

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    1. I agree. It's not just sports though. The Common Core stresses have really been like dominos, knocking over everything in the path, causing havoc and destruction everywhere. Extracurricular arts are one of the knocked over dominos for sure.

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  7. I'm not sure if Nextdoor is active in your community but is a good way to get the word out in CA.
    https://nextdoor.com/find-neighborhood/ny/?utm_medium=directory_city_public_page&utm_source=directory_city_public_page

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    1. I sounded like an advertisement. I'm not I've just noticed that online neighborhood lists seem to be popular. It would be a shame for kids to miss out on such great classes.

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  8. My wife teaches a summer art "camp" and here are some ideas for finding students. Church and Synagogue youth ministries are great concentrations of age-appropriate children. Home school as mentioned. Just Google "new york homeschool" and you'll find lots of networks you can tap into in your area. Art supply store to put up a flyer? Private schools? Good luck!

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