As The Intergenerational School’s art teacher, Mrs. Lowery uses art instruction to connect students to history, to their community and to their own creativity. When schools abruptly shut down in March, Mrs. Lowery used art—and the art of conversation—to maintain and strengthen the connections that became more important than ever for our extended school family.
In addition to adapting art class to virtual class, using more readily available at-home supplies and recorded lessons to supplement live virtual class, Mrs. Lowery took on a new role.
“The specials teachers and our other support staff—LLI teachers and paraprofessionals—took on the role of communicating with families,” Mrs. Lowery explained. Each one adopted a homeroom class of TIS-East families and committed to checking in with them by phone every week to see how they were faring, provide updates and answer any questions they had.
“We wanted to show them we value their education, make sure we’re still providing education where they can be successful, even if it’s virtually,” Mrs. Lowery explained.
“I think the things that our administration did prior to the pandemic to set up these communication lines with families really helped us in a time of emergency, so that it wasn’t bizarre for a parent to get a phone call, text, email because of the work we had done previously.”
As the 2019-2020 school year drew to a close, Mrs. Lowery knew she wanted to maintain the connections she and her fellow specials teachers had worked so hard to hone throughout the spring, as well as to find a way to help families cope as the pandemic continued.
So Mrs. Lowery and Ms. Connie, Near West’s yoga instructor, spearheaded Wellness Wednesdays—themed, recorded video art and yoga classes throughout the summer that students and families could participate in each week. They posted these videos to Facebook and invited families to share their creations.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Mrs. Lowery said. “Anxiety is high. One of the things that’s important for all of us is to maintain our wellness—mentally, physically and emotionally. Yoga and art seemed to really help.”
On their own or alongside their siblings, parents and grandparents, TIS-East students had the opportunity to work through their feelings, express themselves and try new things through Wellness Wednesdays.
Through these concerted efforts at building and maintaining connections, Mrs. Lowery has found a few silver linings during this difficult time. She noticed that some of her most reserved students found their voices and thrived in recorded art presentations; she feels closer than ever to the families that she has been calling each week; and she knows she has the confidence and ability to adapt to even the most unexpected challenges—and so do her students.
"If I had to pinpoint one favorite moment from this, it's seeing students get to do art with their parents," Mrs. Lowery said. "When we go back to school in person and when we’re able to open up more, I would love to be able to have parents and families come in and make art with us, because it has been awesome to be able to see students making art with older and younger siblings, with their parents and grandparents."