Today’s teacher story is about Dana Allen, who teaches art at Huth Road Elementary School. Her students’ creative works add color and excitement to the school’s corridors. Occasionally, the works of the student artists can be seen at the Grand Island Memorial Library, in the conference room.
Did you have any other career dreams or did you always know that you wanted to be a teacher?
I have always been interested in art since I was a little girl. I originally went Buffalo State College to be a graphic designer. I knew that I wanted to do something in the art world. When I was younger, I used to play school with friends, and we would pretend that we were teachers. And the funny thing is that we are now teachers. So I guess that I combined teaching and the arts, and I have the best of both worlds now.
In my junior year of college, I decided to go into art education, so I have a dual degree; a BFA in Graphic Design and BS/MS in Art Education. I traveled while studying abroad for a semester in Europe. I was gone for four months.It was one amazing trip. I visited seventeen countries and went into every art museum imaginable. On that trip, I made the decision that I wanted to go into art education because I loved working with kids. When I was younger, I worked as a lifeguard, at playgrounds and at the Boys and Girls Club teaching Arts & Crafts. I was always working with kids. People always said that I would make a good teacher, that I was always very thorough. I had patience for the kids.
Where did you start your teaching career?
My career started as a Middle School/High School art teacher in Pembroke, and I taught grades five through twelve. I traveled between buildings. I really loved teaching middle school. I coached modified girls soccer. (Modified is seventh and eighth grades.) I loved the excitement and their energy.They are at that level where they still have a love for art, and they are getting to the point where they are getting a little shy about showing off their work. By the time they get into high school, they want their art to look more realistic and life-like.
Then I got a job here in Grand Island. I started part time at the high school. I also taught a little bit of eighth grade art to a handful of students who needed art for their requirement. Then my job eventually went to full time, as we gained more classes and more students. Over the years, I have taught Photography, Introduction to Art, Studio in Art, Ceramics, Studio in Sculpture, Drawing & Painting, Creative Crafts, and Studio in Advertising. I was at the high school for eight years. It was a lot of fun. I really miss teaching photography. The quality of the work at the high school is amazing. I also shared a room with the art teachers up there. When there was a retirement in 2007, I moved to Huth Road Elementary School. I was glad to finally have my own classroom that I could decorate and arrange the way I wanted. I’ve been here ever since.
What is it like to go from teaching in high school to teaching in elementary school?
When I came to the grade school, the funniest thing was that, when I was demonstrating how to draw something, the students would say, “Wow! You’re an artist! “ I would just laugh. A couple classes actually clapped when I was done with my demonstration, and I felt that I should get up and bow. I felt like I was the “Art Rock Star” here.
I had to learn how to break my lessons down into steps so that the elementary students would understand the process. I had to figure out what they learned at Sidway, so I knew where to go. Do they know how to hold scissors and cut? Fortunately, we have great teachers in our district and they knew the art basics, so I could move onto fun lessons. One of the other things that I’ve learned teaching at grade school is to show student examples and teacher examples. So they can see multiple ways of problem solving during their project. This way they know that there’s not just one way to do it. I tell them, “If this part's hard, try it this way.” I walk around the room and give them help individually. I’m never sitting. Generally I see each class once a week. Every marking period a new group gets a second day of art on Mondays for ten weeks.
What is a typical day like for you?
Typically, my morning starts off with gathering supplies for the morning classes and setting up and preparing the materials. My first class each morning is a fifth grade group. I move from fifth grade to a fourth grade class with a continuous flow, so I need to be prepared. My third grades come in right after the fourth grades on some days or directly after my lunch, and I end my day with second grades. So I typically spend some of my lunch period setting up for my afternoon classes. It is very physical in the grade school. I find that it is more exhausting teaching at the elementary level. I need to keep my energy high for my student artists. It is all worth it when my students come in and greet me with a hug, or a story, or a drawing they made with a huge smile on their face.
You can usually find me staying after school, straightening my room and organizing it for the next day. Basically, you should see what it looks like at the end of the day. But a messy room shows that we are having fun learning about and creating art. I call it my organized mess. You know that there are some fun things going on when we make a mess. I am grateful for my student helpers who come in after school to help me straighten, clean and organize.
What are some of the projects your classes are working on?
My second grades are working on spring projects. They just finished their Claude Monet Japanese Bridges. I am very proud of how nice they turned out! They moved on to flower paintings and color wheels. One of my second grade groups is drawing butterflies, and they are studying the life cycle of a butterfly in their classroom.
My third grades are painting “ The Starry Night,” by Vincent Van Gogh. They learned about Van Gogh and his life and style of art. Then they created their own interpretation of The Starry Night. The third graders are studying Japan in a unit of study in their regular classroom. Their origami lesson is an interdisciplinary lesson that coincides with what they are doing in their regular classroom. We are making origami flapping birds. I try to do interdisciplinary lessons whenever possible.
The fourth graders are starting a native American weaving with yarn and beads on colored burlap. We just finished a monochromatic painting. They painted with one color plus black and white. I took a photograph of each fourth grader in a pose of their choice. They painted it black to look like a silhouette and placed it on top of their monochrome painting.
One class of fifth graders is doing group research of a famous artist in the library. Each group has a different artist, where they learn about the artist’s life and the artist’s style of art. When they come back to the art room after their research, they paint on canvas board emulating their artist’s work and style. I tried to figure out how I could teach famous artists to fifth grades and I came up with this idea of incorporating technology into our research, with the help of library media specialist Ms. Orosz and technology teacher Mrs. Mancuso-Dulak. The fifth grades are also doing a one-point perspective drawing of Huth Road School. It is a great keep-sake of their time here at Huth. Most grade school art teachers steer clear of perspective, but I love teaching perspective.
What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?
When I am not teaching, I love photography, riding my bike, kayaking, skiing, and traveling. During my trip to Europe in college, I put a coin in the Trevi Fountain in Rome to ensure a return trip. And sure enough, I went back to Italy for my honeymoon in 1999. I also enjoy spending time with my family. My husband, Winthrop, and I have a daughter, Siena, and a son, Nathan; both are in middle school.
What are some of your favorite art media?
I like photography, and I also like to work with acrylics. I used to paint with acrylics on wood. Also, I have a published photograph in a book called “Little Towns are not Forgotten.” I recently was taking some watercolor classes, too. I was kind of self-taught, like Rousseau. I will get back into creating my own art when my children are older and I have more time.
Tell me about art club.
Art club is open to all fifth graders. We do fun projects that we don’t have time for during the school year. For instance, we paint the art stools and paint the windows in the school. We’ve done group projects, such as paper mache. In the past, we have donated our clay bowls to a group called Empty Bowls. Empty Bowls has allowed for artists of all ages to address poverty, homelessness, and hunger issues with the bowl they design. The bowls are sold at the Buffalo Soup-Fest and proceeds go to Friends of Night People.
I also have them learn the process of silkscreen. My high school art teacher, Bill DeGlopper, comes in to help print our art club t-shirts with the logo that is designed by a student. He explains the process of making the screens. So I’m bringing my graphic design background into the mix. Mr. DeGlopper is a Grand Island resident and retired art teacher who loves to do silk-screen. He enjoys the chance to work with the students of Grand Island. You may have seen some of his t-shirt designs on local team and event t-shirts on the island.
What other fun projects did the art club do?
One of the art clubs did the Mondrian window painting that is on view around the corner from the office. We focused on primary colors (red, yellow, and blue).In art club, we also did a Pysanky Ukrainian egg project, in which they used a wax resist process. Parents volunteered to come in and were so helpful. I couldn’t do it without them. We work with candles to melt the wax and dip the eggs into vibrant, really colorful dyes.
What would you tell parents about their kids as artists?
Please encourage your children to appreciate the arts. Not only is it everywhere in their daily lives, but it also helps them to become well-rounded individuals. When the kids get older, they want things to look more realistic, and they tend to stop creating art. I would say encourage your kids to keep drawing in order to get better, just like a sport. The more you practice, the better you get. Some people tell me that they can only draw a stick figure, but if you sat down and really tried, you could do better than you think. I’m always encouraging kids to go one step further with their art. I also encourage them to love the arts and enjoy it and not to stress over little mistakes. Mistakes can be made into something else. Sometimes, they can become happy mistakes. I recently had a student who said, “ I didn’t mean to mix the colors but I really love how it looks.”
Is there anything else that you would like to say?
Students are at different levels of ability. I encourage each student to try their best. Their best might look different from the person sitting next to them, but I encourage them to try THEIR PERSONAL BEST in everything that they do.