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RPS Voices: The Rutgers Prep Blog

Transcending the Pandemic Through Art
Transcending the Pandemic Through Art

"Creativity is contagious; pass it on” -Albert Einstein

This simple but profound quote embodies the approach of Rutgers Preparatory School’s Lower and Middle School Art Teacher, Mrs. Erin Varga. It is not only her creativity that is contagious, it is also her positive energy, genuine nature and adventurous mindset that deeply inspires her students. It is due to Mrs. Varga’s inspirational teachings that Rutgers Preparatory School’s Lower and Middle School students were able to transcend the pandemic and refocus their energy on creation, imagination, and self-actualization through Art.

Like every other educator in society, Mrs. Varga was faced with the challenge of altering her instructional approach when COVID-19 moved Rutgers Prep to remote learning. “This was a bit of a struggle in the beginning as it was for all teachers. I tried to continue as much as I could from the lessons we began in school, but that was difficult for some classes and ages as we didn't have an art room of supplies at home,” said Varga. Considerate and careful in her planning, she did not give up. “I began researching other ideas and how to change the art curriculum using less... We incorporated more outdoor activities, such as fairy house building and shadow drawing for the Lower School students and outdoor photography for the Middle School students. I also felt it was a good idea to get the students moving outdoors if possible. More drawing technique was introduced and letting the students know that whatever supplies they had at home would be acceptable…” As a veteran teacher and a professional, Mrs. Varga understood the need to be flexible, and did not allow the shift from “normalcy” to deter her from her ultimate goal of reaching her students.

Mrs. Varga’s first priority is always the students, fostering a rapport and classroom environment that allows them to discover their talents, feel comfortable taking risks, and explore new avenues/mediums that help them to develop as artists and as individuals. “The kids were fabulous! Many of them were just happy to see other faces on Zoom. Many of them emailed me art they would work on in their free time off of Zoom, and I told them that this was great! I loved seeing art emails over the weekend, knowing that the students were staying positive and happy! I explained that there was no need to stress as we would get through this and they loved getting feedback and sharing all of their work.” The pride that she has for her students and their work is evident.

As September 2020 approached, Mrs. Varga maintained her optimism and uncanny ability to think creatively and pivot to whatever the circumstances may be. Hybrid Schooling paired with physically distanced classrooms can prove to be an immense challenge for an Art classroom that relies heavily on shared materials to execute a multitudinous and predominantly hands-on curriculum. “I'm trying to once again keep it a little less stressful as we move along, but also trying to stick with my curriculum. Getting as many supplies as I can for the students, especially for Lower School students. They each have art bins that I filled with supplies so they can work either in person or at home. The bins take a bit of stress off of the kids and parents.” Mrs. Varga also discussed some new additions to her curriculum that have been added since March 2020. “The photography piece that I added for Middle School in the Spring was fabulous! The step by step drawing skills that the Lower School is doing more of now has also been a big hit! I also think the kids are enjoying the fact that they each have their own bin of supplies they can use.”

When asked about how she addresses her students and their concerns about the changes or the future, Mrs. Varga replied, “I just remind the kids to slow down, take more time, and not to worry. I've added mindfulness pieces such as mandalas and more color theory to the curriculum. We know that in Art class that we take one day at a time....” 

The autonomy and support that Rutgers Preparatory School offers its teachers enable them the freedom to pivot in extenuating circumstances such as those seen over the last year. This provides them with the ability to truly reach their students through authentic and individualized experiences in the classroom, allowing students to feel safe and realize that they are an integral part of their own learning processes. Teachers like Mrs. Varga and others at Rutgers Preparatory School continue to commit themselves to adapting their instructional approaches without compromising the integrity of their curriculum, and, in turn, continually engaging and inspiring their students to grow and succeed. 
 

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