Bowie resident Alexandra Calloway is trying to put some STEAM into education at Heather Hills Elementary in Bowie
In the rush to improve student performance with a focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — courses, educators are leaving out something just as important, art, Calloway said.
Calloway, a member of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, has pushed to increase student exposure to art during the school day both by leading art instruction and in securing funding for art in the classroom.
Heather Hills Elementary is a talented and gifted school, that has a workload geared toward challenging students in math and the sciences. The school does not have its own art teacher. The Bowie school shares an instructor with two other schools which means students at the school get exposed to art about once a quarter, said Keema Johnson, who took over as the school’s art teacher on Nov. 12.
Heather Hills students want more art, said Calloway, whose 9-year-old son Austin, is a third-grader at the school.
Prior to Johnson’s arrival, when the school lacked an art teacher at the start of the school year as the planned instructor was shifted to a full-time position at another school, Calloway and the PTO stepped in. Calloway organized 12 of her fellow PTO parents to teach 14 art classes between Sept. 18 and Sept. 27.
Working in teams, the parents taught 40 classes to the roughly 400 students at the school that has grades from second to fifth. The volunteer effort and the coordination of it led to Calloway becoming the PTO’s art committee chairwoman, she said.
“They did a good job,” said school Principal Patsy Hosch.
Calloway is the organization’s first art committee chair in the past four years, said PTO president Dawn Wampler, who appointed Calloway in September.
“As we find volunteers who are willing to work on things, we match them up with their interests,” she said. “She has a real heart for art.”
Calloway said she has always enjoyed art and recalled that she and her mother made her prom dress.
The effort wasn’t Calloway’s first brush with supporting the arts at the school.
In coordination with the PTO and school officials, Calloway put together a grant request to the city of Bowie seeking funding to support art at the school. Out of a crowded field of 17 entries, the Heather Hills application was one of three that received funding, bringing $1,500 to the school.
“With this art grant, we can blow this school up,” Johnson said.
The money, which has to be spent before the end of the fiscal year in June 2013, will go toward everything from art supplies for students to perhaps bringing in special instructors to the school who could show students basketmaking and other skills, Calloway said.
“We have a very giving community” Hosch said.
While Johnson won’t return to Heather Hills until after the New Year, Calloway is looking to mobilize parents to help Johnson with art projects by either helping with setup or cleanup. That should allow Johnson more time to work with students, Calloway said.
“I do see the value of [art] and with all of the budget cuts and the emphasis on all the other things, we need to provide these things a different way,” Calloway said.