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The following story is the first in a three-part series about Teaching Art During a Pandemic. The first story, below, will focus on Columbia High School. Following stories will look at art instruction at Goff Middle School and the Elementary Schools.

Teaching Art during a Pandemic, and with a hybrid model, has been both challenging and rewarding. After working remotely last spring, some projects had to be tabled or completely re-thought. That experience taught art teachers a great deal about re-working and re-thinking plans and all of the regular day-to-day routines of the art room.

Since early September, Art teachers throughout the district, prepared thousands of individual Art Kits for students. Modifying plans and projects and re-thinking how the art rooms would function under CDC guidelines with little time to prepare, has, in no way, been an easy task. Being the creative problem-solvers that ALL teachers are, the Art Department has persevered and students have flourished.

Columbia High School

Since March of last year, Columbia art classes have continued to operate smoothly. Student’s art-making has not stopped, or even slowed down. Ms. Gordon says, “Art has always provided students with opportunities to be creative and expressive, but more so than ever, art is truly an essential part of the day for our students. Art provides a great escape and for some students a kind of therapy. It gives students a chance to express their thoughts and feelings, release stress, and focus their energy in a really positive way.” 


Michaela Needham ’21 took Ceramics/Sculpture last spring. Unfortunately for her and her classmates, working with clay was not an option during the quarantine. In the fall, she approached Ms. Gordon, and asked for an opportunity to work with clay independently. Her time and dedication to working with clay paid off when her ceramic piece titled “Realism,” was selected into the prestigious and highly competitive High School Regional Exhibition.

"Realism" ceramics project

“Realism” by Michaela Needham ’21

“Operating Ceramics/Sculpture this fall was tricky,” says Ms. Gordon. “I had to borrow clay tools and supplies from my colleagues in order to create enough kits for all the students enrolled in Ceramics/Sculpture class.”

Clay and tools could not be shared and being a very “hands-on” material Ms. Gordon sanitized her hands between helping each student. “I had a really great group in the Fall. Many students told me they looked forward to coming to class and they worked really hard.  So many great pieces were made and I was very proud! The hard work of operating the class truly paid off!”

Computer Graphics

Another example of the Art Department adapting to these unprecedented times, was the way Ms. LeRoy had to shift from teaching the Computer Graphics class out of the HVCC lab to teaching out of her classroom using only the chromebooks.  Exciting new lessons were created using Canva, Google Drawing, Adobe Spark, Photopea, Google Slides, and Google Sheets. When there was no choice but to make modifications some very interesting and exciting projects came forth.

Computer Graphics project


Adjustments to the Photography class curriculum had to be made this year since sending school cameras home was not a feasible option. Instead, students took photographs using their cell phone cameras. They were assigned “Weekly Photography Challenges” that were open to interpretation and could be done on Remote Days. “This is definitely a positive addition to the curriculum and something I will continue for years to come,” said Ms. Neiman, noting the students’ creativity and the opportunity to begin practicing good compositional techniques early on in the semester.

Pause by Natalie Herkenham web

“Pause” by Natalie Herkenham

Once it became clear we would remain in school past October, Ms. Neiman allotted days for hands-on exploration of the district’s collection of Single Lens Reflex (SLR) film cameras. Each student was given their own camera to keep in the classroom for the semester.

“I had a plan for how to introduce the parts of the camera in a very orderly fashion, but as soon as the cameras were in students’ hands their curiosity and enthusiasm took over and the lesson became very much student-driven,” Ms. Neiman said. “They had so many questions and wanted to push all the buttons and really understand the functions of aperture and shutter speed. Those were some of the best days in my 14 years of teaching! The students were just so lively and engaged!”

The Weight of the Wait by April Bergmann-Haro

“The Weight of the Wait” by April Bergmann-Haro

Columbia librarian Ms. Banks’ was a huge asset to the Semester 1 Photography class as her schedule this fall was flexible enough to allow her to support students with their Photography research assignment. She taught the students digital literacy skills, digital citizenship skills, how to write proper citations, avoid plagiarism and access databases.

This collaboration allowed Ms. Neiman the opportunity to bring each student into the darkroom for a 1:1 lesson to learn how to operate an enlarger and develop a print. Print development is always a magical experience for students but there was something extra special about it this year. As a district, we are fortunate to still have an operational darkroom, but given all the limitations the Pandemic has imposed on delivery of instruction, the students gained a real appreciation for this truly unique experience.

Special thanks to Director of Technology Peter Goodwin, Columbia Head Custodian James VanBuren and Paul Clark of Buildings and Grounds for their role in the logistics of collecting and transporting empty Chromebook boxes to Columbia where they were upcycled into personal Art Kits.