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Great Bend elementary artists displaying work at gallery
new deh gbhs art shannnon wedel
Shannon Wedel, USD 428 elementary art teacher, loads paint brushes for students of Claudia Smitheran at Eisenhower School. She and Melissa Watson are responsible for the art education of all public school children K-6, including those in self-contained special education classrooms. Adapting art lessons for special-needs children is one of the things Wedel likes most about her job. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

If you want to see it:
USD 428 K-8 student art will be on display throughout the month at the Barton County Arts Council, 1401 Main. A reception for the young artists will be from 3-5 p.m. on April 17.

It’s more than coloring.
It’s more than finger painting.
It’s more than playing with clay.
Elementary art these days is so much more than most adults were exposed to back in the day.
Shannon Wedel and Melissa Watson, elementary art teachers, are responsible for the art education of every USD 428 grade-school student. And it’s the educational aspect that sets the local public school art program apart from many others.
Art instruction at the elementary has been a tradition in USD 428 since 1959 when Gordon Zahradnik was hired as the first teacher. Zahradnik is now a well-known regional artist.
“We have an actual curriculum,” Wedel said, who helped develop the program.
Based on individual grade levels, students learn about elements of art like shapes, form, textures, values and space. They learn about principles of art such as emphasis, balance and variety. They also are exposed to drawing, painting, three-dimensional art, printmaking, collage, mixed media and textiles.
In addition to all those things, “We try to incorporate as much art history as possible while making it as fun as possible,” Wedel said. “Every part of our art history lessons has a hands-on element to it.”
Art history spans cultures worldwide including Asian, Hispanic, Native American and African. It also spans time through major art periods from Pre-Historic to Expressionism, with stops at Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Impressionism and Cubism.
The works of nearly two dozen major artists are studied including Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter Max and Andy Warhol. Specific major art works are also studied like Mona Lisa, American Gothic, Statue of Liberty and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
“Another thing we try to do is incorporate literature into lessons, especially with younger students,” Wedel said. “Many lessons are based on a book that we have read in class and completed a project on.
“We try to integrate subject matter that is being taught by classroom teachers whenever possible,” she continued. “For example, we placed MC Escher and tessellations into our curriculum at fourth grade because that is something that is on their state math assessment.”
Wedel explained that she and Watson are scheduled in a block so that they are a one school each week. They see all of the classes every day for 40 minutes during that week. Each school is visited six times each school year.
“When I began 16 years ago, I had 900 students and traveled to seven buildings,” Wedel recalled. Now, she visits just five schools and has 781 students. But even with that many students, she is able to know all of their names.
“It really feels like we get to know them,” she said.
While moving between so many buildings may make it seem as though the traveling art teachers have no actual home, Wedel said the opposite is actually true.
“We feel at home wherever we go,” she said.