Thursday, October 1, 2015

Easy Bird Family Lesson for Primary Grades

This is an easy and fun drawing lesson for primary grade students. This was the last lesson I taught as a long term substitute elementary art teacher in the Allentown School District, before I was unfairly blacklisted from full time employment. You can see the easy steps on the right, and I always model the drawing one step at a time so students can follow me, and not feel frustrated. What I loved was the way the students used their imaginations, ( which I encouraged) and gave their birds human traits and personalities by adding hair bows, hats, etc. No "college and career" developmentally inappropriate nonsense allowed in my class! I let little kids be little kids!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Unfairly Blacklisted

Abstract tree, 5th grade ASD student work
I was informed on Saturday morning (by robo-email) that I will not be interviewed for one of the three newly restored elementary art teacher positions in the Allentown School District even though I "meet the requirements." "The positions have been filled." "No Interview." I believe I am being unfairly blacklisted (for the 2nd time) from full-time employment in the ASD. 

Formerly a tenured ASD art teacher, I've been a dedicated ASD substitute teacher for the past 4 years, including two long-term assignments as an ASD elementary art teacher, and I started a 3rd long-term assignment as an ASD elementary art teacher at the end of this past school year. So … they know I can do the job … and I've also been given letters of recommendation from ASD principals and fellow ASD teachers. 

As many of you know, I've been a vocal ASD parent, publicly opposing the cuts to related arts teachers and advocating for full restoration of these programs. Over the years, I've also been a parent volunteer, freely giving hundreds of hours of my time working to improve the ASD. I am feeling both sad and angry about this apparent free speech punishment and blackball discrimination, which shows the true colors of the ASD administration and ASD board. I will greatly miss my always gratifying interactions with ASD students, ASD parents, and ASD teachers. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Grade 5 Flower Drawings

Four different approaches to the same lesson. I showed students how to draw closed and open roses, and other flowers. They incorporated the flowers into a design of their choosing. Most of the girls chose to draw several flowers, and most of the boys preferred to draw one single rose. I love how these came out, even though they did not have time to finish coloring. If only they had art class once a week, instead of once every three weeks! This was the last art class of the year.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mini Self-Portraits

1st grade art work
4th grade art work

3rd grade art work, 5th grade is above

These are 3"x3" and will be part of a district wide mosaic project to be displayed at the Allentown Art Museum this summer.  I challenged some of my first grade classes because they were very attentive and interested in following me as I showed them step by step how to draw the features of the face. I encouraged all students to do their best, and offered lots of praise and assistance since I knew this project would be intimidating and frustrating for some of my students. There were some tears.  Kindness, patience, and compassion is always the best way to treat students who struggle with confidence, fine motor skills, or behavior.

Since I am working as a long term substitute, I was not included in the planning of this project. I would have objected to the small size because I think it is developmentally inappropriate for primary grade students. While teaching this lesson, I learned that some younger students like to portray themselves as super heroes, imaginary characters, etc. instead of how they really look, which is normal for students ages 5-8. I would never discourage a child to draw from their imagination, since that is developmentally appropriate.

UPDATE 9/15  The summer has passed and I have not heard anything about this project. No one has contacted me, and if the work has been displayed I have not been given any credit by the Allentown School District for teaching this lesson.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Test Prep in Place of Middle School Arts Courses

ASD Middle School Art Work
Over the last 4 years our allegedly* cash-strapped SD, with school board approval, has cut over 400 teaching positions. This plan was called a "curriculum curtailment" and parents were told by district officials that the district had no choice but to cut teachers. Related arts courses, also known as "minor rotation" courses at the middle schools were cut by 50%. One art teacher is now shared by two middle schools. There are over 900 students at each middle school. We used to have 2-2.5 art teachers at each middle school. The "curtailed" courses include art, music, library, languages, health/PE, technology ed., and family consumer science. Students are being short-changed of a quality education.

Allentown SD middle school students used to enjoy a well rounded curriculum, with 2 related arts courses every quarter. Now the kids get only one minor rotation per quarter, and a class called "intervention and enrichment." In 8th grade, my son has had  PSSA test prep for 2 quarters (half the year) as his "enrichment" class. Parents were told that teachers would be doing special projects during enrichment class. When I expressed my concerns, the teachers told me they must teach test prep. I realize this is not the teacher's fault, but parents need to be aware of what is going on, and should speak up against this misuse of instructional time.  Cutting arts courses is bad enough, but then to add test prep in place of those courses, is just disgraceful.

* Recently, an extra $19.6 million in funds was discovered in the district's budget.  Local news media is reporting that number as $11 million, but the budget report shows an additional $8 million between Nov. and Jan. after an audit by the teacher's union. But ASD superintendent Dr. Mayo says there are no plans to restore the related arts teachers, (but they did hire a new arts administrator) and there has been no outside investigation of this shocking mismanagement of funds. No on has been fired. But there are plans to open a NEW career charter HS within the district, for 150 lucky students who win a lottery.

UPDATE 9/15: The district has now restored some of the related arts teachers at the elementary school level, but only PE was restored at the middle school level at this time. Not enough!! Full restoration of all related arts courses is needed in order to provide a well rounded education to all the students.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Claire Danes, Altered Image

Altered xerox, Cubist style
This is how I teach Cubism to middle school students. Make photocopies, color, cut in shapes, re-assemble, glue, and draw on top. I let them pick images of celebrities from a teen magazine.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The State of our School Music Program

I enjoyed watching my 8th grade son Gianni and the Trexler Middle School Orchestra perform at their annual Winter Concert. The band and chorus were also enjoyable. I loved the band's fun rendition of "Louie, Louie." This is my son's 6th year performing as a violinist. When he was in elementary school, he played piano as well as violin. He enjoys playing violin at school. The dedicated students, teachers, and parents should be commended for their commitment to keeping instrumental music alive in the Allentown SD. Students must attend early rehearsals at 7 am, before school starts, 2-3 times a week. It's a big commitment.

Over the past 4 years, the Allentown SD has greatly reduced its music programs, cutting related arts teachers as a short sighted solution to a budget crisis. Over 1/4 of staff has been lost over 4 years. At the middle schools, that's a 50% reduction in long standing arts programs that children need. One  classroom music teacher is stretched to cover two middle schools. Some middle school students won't have music class all year. A school's curriculum should reflect what a community values, and our city leaders tell us that the arts are a  centerpiece in Allentown's  "rebirth." So, why aren't the arts just as important at our city public schools? The reality is quite the opposite, and children who attend city schools are being short-changed.

Trexler MS serves approximately 1,000 students, but there are only 14 students in the orchestra. It seems like each year, that number gets smaller. The instrumental music teacher is stretched too thin, as are all ASD related arts teachers. She teaches both band and orchestra. Our small but mighty orchestra sounds terrific, but should be much bigger. I'd hate to see this program just disappear. These programs need community support, and moreTEACHERS. Arts enrichment and integration to replace certified teachers is insufficient. We need TEACHERS who connect with students, providing consistency and continuity. 

The ASD city schools are community schools, they anchor Allentown's neighborhoods, and need to be improved, not abandoned. Expansion of trendy charter schools to serve select students, currently drain $37.8 million away from our district schools.  Public education is a public service for every child. Traditional public schools don't  turn children away. Please vote for school board candidates who can see the bigger picture, who support improving existing schools, who are not afraid to take a stand and restore arts teachers across the district instead of building new experimental high schools at the whims of local corporations. Education is much more than just  job training. By participating in the arts, students learn skills needed to be successful in any career, but more importantly, the arts bring joy and meaning to children's lives right now.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Working With Autistic Students K-2

These are very simple and fun torn paper fall trees, a lesson I teach to students in an autistic support room, grades K-2. I love the way each one is very different.  I teach by modeling, one step at a time. First tear the green grass, then a rectangle for the tree trunk, then the branches, and then add tissue paper leaves to the tree, or background.  Their teacher was very supportive and hung them in the hallway.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Paraprofessional Speaks Out: "This is the Job of a Teacher"

Paras help me teach my Pre-K lessons
I received this comment at an older post and felt that it deserved some attention. Thank you for sharing your story, Rachelle. The paras in Allentown SD start at under 12k per year, and are grossly underpaid and undervalued. Why isn't their union doing anything to help them get the pay they deserve?

" I have been a para in Missouri for 5 years (this coming year is my 6th). I was a SPED para for 4 years and was a classroom para (more of a teacher's aide) for the past year and will be again this year. Last year, I had my own classroom, which I decorated and managed, planned my own lessons, and took 9 reading groups of 6 kids each, 1 math class of 21 children, and 1 intervention group of 8 children in my day. Like any other teacher, I have a plan time in addition to my lunch--because I need it. I plan all of my own lessons for each reading group, on different reading levels, each math group and each intervention group. I go to the teacher professional development and provide anecdotal notes as well as data for teachers.

This job is the job of a teacher. I make less than 12K a year. I spend nights at home grading, working on lessons and free days organizing and decorating my classroom. Schools are realizing that if they call a position "para" they can pay whatever they want...and it's not right.

As a SPED para, I did as much work. I learned sign language for one of my kids, because no one gave him any kind of communication device and he was nonverbal. I planned his communication lessons, and rather than the SPED teacher, I was the one who met with his SLP and the district Autism Specialist about him. His mother addressed her notes to me rather than to his teachers. Again, I got paid next to nothing.

In Missouri, I am eligible for food stamps. It's not right that I do the things I do and still make so little that the state has determined that I cannot feed myself on my own salary. Not only that, but I often feel discarded because I am a para. At professional development recently, the end of the day came and an activity was still going on, a "team" activity, but an announcement came on: "Paras are dismissed. Activities will continue after you have clocked out." Why not just say, "Paras are don't matter and we don't want to pay you anymore."?

I have 2 Master's degrees in addition to my undergrad. I am an educated, smart person and I strive every day to make a difference to kids, but I cannot feed myself and clothe myself and put a roof over my own head. I fear I might have to quit because of these things...but the saddest part is, the district doesn't care. They'll hire anyone else with 60 college credit hours and say "whatever."
It burns me to the core to think of how undervalued paras are."


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Failure to Lead in Allentown SD

Where was admin. support for our elementary art show?
Our school board just approved more teacher cuts, another 98 positions on the chopping block, 406 positions eliminated since 2012. The vote was 6-3. See details here. And today, to add even more insult to injury, The Express TImes "Newspaper" decided to publish the names of  the teachers who are losing their jobs. Shame on the editors of that paper.

As a current substitute teacher, former ASD teacher, and a parent, I see the overall damage caused by the mass elimination of teachers. The decision to cut even more teachers is short-sighted and immoral. These cuts don't heal, children only get this one chance at an education. This is a failure in leadership of school board, and ASD central administration. 

This past school year my active 7th grade son was robbed of physical education/health class all year, because PE teachers were cut. No tech ed class for my son. The beautiful school library is dark, art and music teachers slashed to .5 teacher to serve over 900 students, but they keep piling on the reading/math, and other content classes, even though kids cannot concentrate at end of long day of seat work. This is a disservice to children, not age appropriate, it's even abusive. Teachers are stretched too thin. Schools have become unsafe due to understaffing. Kids are not happy. It's a failure to lead our district.

I taught art as a long term sub at 3 ASD elementary schools, seeing 2,000 students. These sweet children saw me only once every 3 weeks. I was unable to get to know them. But I do know that they are suffering because of cuts to related arts. Arts/PE programs are critical to a child's overall health and development. These programs have always been essential to public schools. They bring joy and teach important skills. These classes must be taught by certified specialists. So why is our superintendent, Dr. Mayo,  courting an arts academy charter school, for select "talented" young children, instead of restoring certified arts teachers so every child has an opportunity? I find his efforts to be immoral, and not in best interest of majority of students he serves. A real leader would be fighting, and finding ways to reinstate our arts teachers, to minimize testing, working to put a stop to unproven common core, which is diverting millions of dollars away from our classrooms. Dr. Mayo did not attend the opening of the elementary student art show, neither did our school board. In fact, the only administrator in attendance was the ASD's former arts coordinator, who is now an assistant principal. There were no administrators at the Trexler Middle School Spring Concert. Again, failed leadership, no real support for our arts programs, and demoralizing for teachers and students who work so hard.

Access to books is critical to improving literacy for children of poverty, yet our board approved cuts to librarians, with no plans to restore those positions. Failed leadership.

We need more Special Ed and Emotional Support help. Support is SO critical. Para professionals are paid less than 12k per year to start, while Dr. Mayo makes over 170k! And he plans on taking a salary increase this year! And there are plans to cut special ed teachers and paras. This is a failure to lead, and a failure to protect our children.

There is no shortage of funding for shiny new unproven common core textbooks and materials, a new STEM coordinator, supervisors of instruction, other administrators who don't work directly with students. Why isn't anyone questioning the validity of new standards? How will college and career  standards help our students? STEM is a joke, since science is barely taught in elementary school, and tech ed has been cut, librarians cut. ASD has narrowed the curriculum, cut teachers and essential programs, so how does this prepare kids for college? Where is the early intervention? ASD has cut vital Pre-K program. Another failure to lead our district, and mismanagement of funds.

Over $30 million being diverted to flavor of the day charter schools, which appeal to parents because these schools can exclude students with behavior issues, and they offer smaller class sizes. These new academies take more vital resources away from neediest students at our neighborhood schools. The charter schools may seem appealing and customized, but children should be offered a well rounded curriculum, they are too young to be focusing on a career path at school. And the high quality schooling that parents want for their own child, they should want for every child. Many charter schools hire young, inexperienced teachers, pay them less than traditional public schools, and don't provide special education or ESL services. Many are run by non-educators, and overall, students at charters do not outperform students at regular public schools. Plus, these de-facto private schools increase racial segregation, and promote inequality. I try to convince parents to stay and fight to improve the neighborhood schools, which are a foundation of democracy, but few share my point of view, and ASD has become unsafe. I don't blame parents for wanting to protect their children. How long can we stay committed to a district the keeps cutting teachers?  

The larger political plan is to starve neighborhood schools, creating a need for charters, some run by business men and huck$ters who know nothing about teaching. The "executive education" school seems questionable because it is inappropriate to train Kindergarteners to be business executives, and to teach primary grade children how to create spreadsheets. Why didn't anyone question the name and mission of this school? And I see they are heavily promoting their full day Kindergarten, for future "executives". They bought a curriculum at last minute, and ASD board approved the school. The school is based on a misguided goal- to meet Allentown's need for skilled workers in the new NIZ (Neighborhood improvement Zone). What if those jobs don't materialize? A school should be focused on meeting STUDENT needs.This is NOT public education. I don't know how any teacher worth their degree could support this school's mission.

 The community is being duped into believing that choice will benefit all children. What about the 700 homeless kids in ASD, how will choice help them? And busing kids out of their neighborhoods to charters does not help strengthen our community. ASD students must walk across dangerous intersections and long stretches because the district does not provide busing for majority of students. This is a failure in leadership at all levels of government, and Democrats no longer stand for democratic values and principles. Where is the shared humanity, the concern for the greater good? Where is the leadership? 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Full Day Kindergarten Should Not Focus on Academics

Kindergarten art work
When I began teaching art in 1995, I was assigned to all three early childhood centers in our school district. This was before the NCLB and Race to the Top/Common Core education reform debacles. In the 1990's I helped to coordinate the DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practices) curriculum for the early childhood centers in the Allentown SD. What I see happening now in Kindergarten conflicts with how I was trained to teach, and conflicts with well established research in child development.

A full day kindergarten focused on academics is a bad idea and will cause more harm than good. And what's even worse is how schools target those so called academically "at risk" kids for full day K. Many of these children are not developmentally ready for a full day of school. Every young child should be given the chance to progress at his or her own rate. I don't believe children will fall behind if they are not reading and writing at age 5. The current misguided trend of imposing "college and career ready" standards in the primary grades, is completely absurd, and not age appropriate. These standards were not created by early childhood experts. Kindergarten is now like 1st or even 2nd grade.

When I attended Kindergarten, we played, snacked, and napped, we did not have guided reading or writing in journals. The teacher did not follow scripted lessons. There were no worksheets, benchmark assessments, or requirements to learn 100 sight words. We weren't constantly tested and timed for nonsense word fluency. The teacher did not sit at an overhead projector, she sat at the piano. There were class plays, dress up, dolls, blocks, kitchen sets, hula hoops, jump ropes, singing, show and tell. There was a big slide right inside the classroom! These are the things I remember.  I was ready for 1st grade. I turned out okay. Young children need time to play and explore. They naturally want to play because that's how little kids learn. Five year olds should not be forced to stay in their seats and then scolded for not being able to sit still. The focus of Kindergarten should be socialization, adjusting to being at school, and building a foundation for literacy.

Seems like full day K was designed to help parents more than children. I don't care what the research or data says about standardized test scores, or how children of poverty benefit from full day K. I see the same behavior issues in every full day K class that I have taught. They cannot sit still. They cry because they are frustrated and their little bodies need to move. The expectations are unrealistic. Let them play. All full day K programs should include an afternoon of napping, snacking, unstructured play, outdoor recess, singing, dress up, toys, blocks, painting at easels, and the classrooms should be set up in this way. That's not happening, and it's a tragedy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Example for Van Gogh Lesson

This is a piece I made to use as a teaching example for a 1st grade lesson on Van Gogh. The vase is cut out from construction paper, and then I used oil pastels on blue construction paper. Please see right sidebar for more examples of my art work, or search label "art work by Angie Villa." Unfortunately I folded the paper to make it fit in my bag! I LOVE oil pastels, and use them often with my students. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Kids Need Art Class Once a Week

3rd grade landscape, Van Gogh style
I've been assigned to a long term subbing position teaching art at 3 elementary schools in the Allentown School District. I will teach 2,000 students. Elementary students have art class with a certified art teacher only once every three weeks. I am seeing first hand how children are suffering from reduced related arts at school.  Children should not be expected to sit quietly all day long in over crowded classrooms working on "rigorous" math and reading content in order to prepare for tests. When the adults in charge fail to make sure the arts are an essential part of the school curriculum, children suffer and grow up with no understanding of how the arts have value. We must return joy to learning, and put an end to dehumanizing testing and standards centered education policies. Education should be student centered, and students must be given opportunities to discover their talents at school. To see more examples of student art work, please search the label "student work" at this blog. Thanks.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cutting Librarians From Allentown Schools is Undemocratic

Back in 2011 I wrote about the Allentown School District's short sighted decision to cut school librarians to balance the budget. Click here to read the post. Since then, even more librarians have been slashed, and currently there is only 1 librarian to serve 15 elementary schools, and the district has eliminated two of the four middle school librarians. The two remaining are teaching six classes a day, three at two different middle schools. They are not able to do their regular librarian duties as they are teaching full time. My son's school no longer has a book fair or before/after school library. When I spoke with my son's librarian at Trexler Middle School, she said that her role is very different this year. While her title is that of 'librarian', she is actually a full-time related arts teacher and her schedule does not allow time to work in the library.

Allentown SD is an 89% low SES/high poverty district where access to books is important to offset the impact of poverty on learning. Independent reading greatly improves literacy. These deep cuts will not heal, and our children only get this one chance at an education. They must be given opportunities to choose books at school, right now.

How can schools prepare children to be informed and engaged citizens in a democracy without access to books at school?  It's undemocratic and immoral to cut librarians in schools that serve poor children, while schools that serve more affluent children employ full time librarians. Library funding should be increased, not decreased, in Allentown SD, where it is needed the most. My 7th grade son has taken out one book this entire school year. And it is unfair that our children will be denied a Book Fair this year.  The Book Fair is a fun family/school event that children look forward to all year. Children should never suffer because of budget cuts and bad decisions by school board.

At a recent Trexler Middle School PTA meeting, parents expressed their concerns about the library.  I encouraged parents to attend school board meetings and to speak up. Parents must demand reinstatement of certified librarians. Any state funding must be used to bring back librarians. Legislators must hear from parents. Every building should have a full time librarian. The library is the HEART of the school, it should never be closed! There will be no "renaissance" in Allentown without fully funded and fully staffed school libraries!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Charade of Urban School Reform

The following scenario is playing out in urban schools across the country, not just in Allentown: 

With continued reduction/elimination of art, music, social studies, library, electives, and physical education in urban public schools, kids have become unhappy and unhealthy. Implementation of tougher, unproven "college and career" standards, with increased and harder testing, in chronically underfunded and understaffed urban schools has resulted in these worst practices: For example, 12 year old children must sit for 7 periods of "rigorous" content classes per day. Teachers have told me that many young students are drained, have trouble concentrating in the afternoon, due to this developmentally inappropriate schedule and narrowed curriculum. Kids need breaks, daily exercise, and time to be creative at school. 

Teachers see that kids are drained, but per orders from central administration, they must pile on more reading, math, science content during "intervention and enrichment" periods. Teachers must comply to keep their jobs, and are observed closely by administrators, and told how they must teach the enrichment class. Teacher morale is low. Parents are not happy. Children suffer and hate school.

Charter $chools are expanding to make up for the loss of arts/activities, further draining funds from  neighborhood public schools. The Allentown SD currently loses close to $20 million to charter schools. This number is expected to go up to over $25million next year. This creates an unequal, undemocratic public school system, where the arts are reserved for the chosen elite. And expansion of charters promotes racial and socio-economic segregation. The best "choice" is always a fully funded, and fully staffed neighborhood school. Don't believe the rhetoric that choice means equality. 

 Certified arts teachers are being fired, while supervisors of instruction,  PR director, and more administrators are being hired. Grossly underpaid and undervalued paraprofessionals keep school libraries open for elementary students to select books. The Allentown SD now has only one librarian for 15 elementary schools, in an 88% poverty/low SES district, where access to books is critical to reducing effects of poverty on learning. Middle school students rarely have an opportunity to take out library books. Cheaper outsourcing of arts, and bogus arts "integration" is being implemented, instead of hiring certified teachers. Our district spins this as "developing the whole child." Our superintendent is once again conducting a study to determine MINIMAL staffing needs, when he should be working on finding ways to restore what has been lost. Over 4 years, ASD has cut 371 positions, and there is a possibility that 94 more will be cut next year. Schools that serve impoverished children need much MORE than the minimum, in order to meet needs of students.

What can we do? Without a mass joint effort of parents, teachers, and students protesting at every school board meeting, I believe there are 2 things:

 1: Parents can write/call local state legislators and demand that strings are attached to any money from the state, so that the money must be used to reinstate teachers. We must by-pass the Allentown School Board, and central administration, because they continue to ignore pleas from parents, and they continue to hire more overpaid administrators, while cutting essential teachers, and implementing unproven initiatives. State Rep Mike Schlossberg and Senator Pat Browne must hear from parents en masse. And vote out current school board members who approve cuts to teachers.

2. Opt your children out of ALL standardized testing, Go to Lehigh Valley Opt Out on Facebook, or UnitedOpt Out the National Movement for more information. Deny the politicians the flawed data that they are using to label schools, teachers, and students as failures. Say "not with my child!" End the charade.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Leave the Arts Alone!

Joy of painting (Kindergarten lake scene)
The geniuses with no teaching experience who developed the unproven common core standards only see value in the arts at school when arts are attached to their dumb  standards. Check out this document written by David Coleman, president of The College Board, architect of the common core standards, never taught a day in his life, and has no art or art education background, but he is telling art teachers how and what to teach! He's a haughty pontificator! The reformy geniuses are even developing ways to measure the arts using data driven instruction, with the support of duped/sell out arts organizations who want to keep up with the "era of accountability" in education.  Check out this "arts advocacy" blog that promotes common core and standardized testing in the arts.

These pompous corporate hacks who developed the CCSS (David D-Bag Coleman, Gates, etc.) don't even understand that certified art teachers already reinforce academic concepts, teach across the curriculum for deeper meaning, incorporate art criticism, assess during the lesson, and challenge students while using age appropriate methods. Leave the arts alone! What a huge waste of time and money. We don't need your stupid common  core, just let us teach! And just let the kids enjoy learning! Experiences in the arts should never be "rigorous" or standardized!! Art has so much value in and of itself.