Aaron Stratten, the K-12 arts specialist for the Fine Arts office for Fairfax County Schools.
Photo by Jennifer Albarracin/The Connection
On the evening of Saturday, Oct. 12, in the Ju Ju Art Gallery at the Workhouse Art Center, there was bustling group of artists who greeted their friends and family as they poured in. The exhibition was put on by both the Fairfax County Public Schools Fine Arts Office and Workhouse Arts Center as part of the 12th annual Artist Teacher Exhibition. This year’s exhibit includes 50 teaching artists from across Fairfax County selected by Jun Yun, the owner and director of the gallery.
Aaron Stratten, the K-12 arts specialist working in the Fine Arts office for Fairfax County Schools, opened up the night by introducing the mission of the exhibition: “One of the things we do each year to show how much we appreciate and recognize their [art teachers'] skills and their artistry is to put this show on, inviting our teachers to submit their artwork so works can be selected to fill this show.”
SUPERINTENDENT of Fairfax County Public Schools Dr. Scott Brabrand also attended: “We have more than 380 teachers that teach art at Fairfax County Public Schools, and the work and the professionalism and the quality of the art being displayed tonight is unbelievable.” He added, “I went to another school district in Virginia, and sometimes we need to remember what we have here in Fairfax. I had art in a suitcase. Literally, an art teacher then came in for about 15 minutes once a week, opened a suitcase, showed 3-4 paintings and put the suitcase back; Mona Lisa was one of them, so I knew one piece of art before sixth grade and quickly went on. Never did art, never understood art, nothing. So, the opportunities our kids are getting, many of you [teachers] are really the Van Goghs, the Monets, the …I don’t know all the artists I should know of [crowd laughs], sculpture, painting, and mixed media. I’m just so proud of what you are doing.”
Kelly Fergus, 24 years old art teacher at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School and Keene Mill Middle School, also had a similar subpar elementary art experience like superintendent Dr. Bradbrand, “I did not have a good elementary arts experience, so I wanted to give my future students a good elementary art experience. In my elementary school I was kind of the like the art in a suitcase, I only got art once a month and it was taught by parents. I didn’t have an art teacher, so I was pretty much a self-taught artist. I want my kids to have a full enriching art experience.” She also shared the moment she started considering art teaching as a future, “I started out in college as a studio art major but then I needed a summer job, so I applied to teach art during the summer and that’s when I fell in love with teaching.”
Kathryn Rickards, 23, teaches elementary art at Woodley Hills and Fort Hunt. She had a similar elementary art experience as Ferguson. However, she later went on to have a middle school art teacher who helped nurture her passion for art and teaching. “I had a really great middle school art teacher. She was one of the people who suggested I specifically look into being an art teacher because I wanted to be a teacher but hadn’t focused on a specific concentration.”
BOTH FERGUS AND RICKARDS agreed that organization and planning can be one of the challenging parts of teaching, since they work on a cart, traveling to different classes to teach art. They also stated that Fairfax County is growing quickly, and many of their students either speak Spanish as a second language or have recently arrived and only know Spanish. Since they are not fluent in the language, they have other Spanish-speaking students translate for them, easing the teaching process. In addressing the problem of diversity in education, Ferguson noted “education is still growing, teachers are becoming more diverse, now there are more male teachers.”
However, it’s been small changes; “It’s still primarily white woman in general [education] but also in art.”