“They smile and laugh a lot.” says one teacher at Dana Gray School “When I see them, they always make me smile, too.” Norma Trejo and Joanna Wigginton are the Flockworks’ team for Art@Schools bringing art learning and encouragement to students and teachers for the past few years: during this year of the COVID Pandemic, their steady support has meant more than ever.
When COVID Stay-at-Home orders began last March, schools abruptly shifted to on-line classes and everyone, families, children, teachers and the District, struggled to make it work. While Flockworks' well-loved Art program was put on hold, Flockworks team began planning for Art support in the 2020-21 School year. “We knew that children and teachers would need more support than ever” observed Joanna Wigginton, “Art fosters resilience, lowers stress & anxiety, and brings a sense of hope and control. We knew we had to do everything we could!”.
A California Arts Council Grant for Artists in Schools Flockworks applied for in December, was approved in June and meant funding for Trejo’s part-time role. Wigginton, a retired educator and Flockworks program leader, was ready to volunteer to make it happen. She brings decades of teaching: public schools, HeadStart, private school and charter school and has a masters in child development and early childhood education. “Art is not optional” says Joanna and she has backed that up with time and expertise as well as helping find funding.
School Superintendent Rebecca Walker and Principal Richard Kale were in full support of “Art Integrated Learning”, despite all the unknowns for the year ahead. As the 2020-21 School year began with on-line classes, Flockworks delivered 800 Creative Art Learning Packs ensuring all children had all kinds of tools and materials for creative learning. Even Masks went into the Art pack, provided by the North Coast Opportunities’ COVID Mask Project; children’s assignment was to decorate masks and give them to household members. Every child, whatever the family circumstances, now had creative resources on hand for at-home learning plus down time, and for teachers, they could draw on creative resources for class curriculum.
Over the year, Creative Art Learning Packs went out for families to pick up at the school, and teachers began bringing the team for art lessons into the virtual classroom. Shadow puppets, finger puppets, 3-D design, origami, creating with circles,drawing, making comic books, more watercolors, paper and so much more. The team continued finding ways to deliver such creative support to children and teachers and have been a steady, positive resource throughout the year.
Fifth Grade teacher Maiah Caito, summed up the impact she saw. “Flockworks has been a pivotal part of our academic program this year. Flockworks provided materials, lessons, and ideas that helped engage the students in the curriculum. They made sure that every child TK-5th had art tools and materials at home. We used colored pencils to color code place values in math, scissors to make the math games from the curriculum, and the watercolors to explore chemistry. They even made a special packet for our grade level where the students could explore engineering through building a balloon car. Comic books packets helped reluctant writers get started writing. Norma’s zoom Art lessons are very culturally inclusive and use a variety of mediums. The kids loved each lesson and it got them to turn on video, unmute and engage. Thank you so much Flockworks! “
This special team came together over three years ago when Norma became the 1st Art Facilitator for Flockworks’ School Art initiative. When District budget cuts eliminated an elementary art teacher, Flockworks stepped in, commitment to provide weekly art for all four hundred plus of the Dana Gray 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students. Joanna became Norma’s mentor and this very successful program took off. Being bilingual was one key to Norma’s role, as the student population is almost half Latinx and many children and families struggle with barriers of language and culture. Norma’s fluency in two languages was surpassed only by her outgoing personality and warmth, making every child feel included and putting parents at ease. She readily delivered information in an understandable way . . . English - Spanish - demonstration. Students just learning English visibly relax as soon as they enter the ‘Art studio’; Norma knows how they feel. As a young girl transitioning from rural Mexico to Fort Bragg, Norma’s love of art made all the difference. And while playing this art leader's role (as a single parent), Norma has continued college classes towards a degree.
This dynamic duo brings youth and age together in a rich mix. Norma finds incredible YouTube ideas, while Joanna searches books and art publications. They laugh when Joanna says she’d still be trying to learn how to use her phone without Norma’s patient tutoring. And Norma says she can’t enumerate how much she has learned from Joanna’s experience and insight. They brainstorm ideas every week. “We probably only develop one out of every ten ideas we have,” Joanna stated. This lively teamwork has been essential during COVID to bring meaningful support to children and teachers at-home and into the virtual classroom.
“We assess learning value, vocabulary, basic skill development, enjoyment, cost, time available, and other factors as we select what project we will try. We also ask for feedback and ideas and needs teachers would like us to explore.” Teachers and staff are incredibly supportive of the team, but express appreciation for the team’s readiness to prepare special projects, find solutions to challenging problems and bring creative ideas to the curriculum.
With school ending next week, making kites and Pinwheels and doing “egg drops” were among the last activities on this year’s Art Integrated Learning agenda. Already the team is helping with Summer School and making plans for Art@Schools in the 2021-22, Art Integrated Learning will likely require another mix of approaches in the classroom and out as teachers aim to “catch up” from this challenging year. As things open up, the team is looking forward again to bringing children’s work out to community events. Celebrating Hispanic Heritage month might include displays and hands on art again at the annual Fiesta Familia. The teams, along with teachers, staff and children, look forward to the time when art from every student may again fill the hallways and create a joyful atmosphere in the school itself.
“None of what we are doing in the schools would be possible without the support of Flockworks and Executive Director Janet Self (also a volunteer leader for the past 15 years). “ says Wigginton. “She is always ready to help and has been behind the concept since its inception. She has been a driving force in the nuts and bolts that make possible this project and so many other community art initiatives that have happened over the past 15 years. She scours the internet for the best ‘deals’, writes the grants and keeps us documenting what we are doing and encourages each new avenue that we explore. And she tries to make time for her own art making! Flockworks has been a powerful vehicle for making community art happen! ”
This year of challenging work during COVID wrapped up with a small Community Leaders meeting hosted by Flockworks at Dana Gray School. Teachers and staff were treated to a Taco Cart lunch from Los Gallitos, while Leaders learned more about the program and ways to help make Art@Schools and other community art initiatives sustainable in the long run. Donations and community volunteers are very welcome. “We are very passionate about the power of community art, but we simply can’t do this without getting the community behind us,” says Self.