After a half-decade hiatus, art will appear on the schedules of Riverside Elementary School students starting Aug. 19, the first day of classes for the upcoming school year.
This will be the first teaching gig for Abby Steinke, a recent University of Toledo grad hired by the district for the newly-created position in July. After changing majors several times while in college, Steinke said she realized that her love of art had remained one constant throughout her life and education. Teaching art will allow it to remain one. It was really no choice for her in the end.
“I need that creative aspect in my life forever,” Steinke said.
Steinke recently learned that she is to have her own classroom (she thought that she may have to use a cart), so she had to hit the ground running when teachers reported for work Monday, Aug. 17, just two days before the students return. Keep in mind that this was a class that was moribund for five years, so just getting the basics together – everything from colored pencils to construction paper – is a daunting task. “Art supplies are really expensive,” said Steinke with an emphasis could only be shown by a first-year public school teacher.
Steinke is a firm believer in making art from what one has on hand. She likes watercolors and acrylics when creating for her own benefit, but she’s known to have made a ton of university logos using nothing but bottle caps as media. She has a collection of tin cans that will soon be thrust into the hands of grade schoolers as art projects and rescued some “scrap” from a home-improvement retailer she worked for while a student.
“They were just going to throw 50 flooring titles away!” Steinke said with more than a hint of horror in her voice. With the boss’s blessing, the tiles were loaded in her car rather than the outgoing trash. “I don’t have any definite plans,” she said of the tiles, “but we’re going to use them for something.”
A former art teacher of hers “blessed” Steinke with a barrel full of decorations and such for her new classroom. She said that Riverside Jr./Sr. High art teacher Adam Huber has gone out of his way to help her settle into her new digs.
This comes as no surprise as Huber has been a vocal proponent of getting art back into the elementary school and persistently asked the Riverside Board of Education to create the position now filled by Steinke.
“This is something that I’ve been fighting for for a long time,” Huber said of putting art instruction back into the hands and heads of grade-schoolers. “I know how important art is to a kid and how important it is for us to start teaching art to the youngest students. So, yeah, you could say I was both surprised and excited when I learned the board created the position.”
Huber said that Steinke stood out from a number of outstanding applicants for the position with her vision to build a solid platform of art instruction, talking about a progression of skills needed for anyone, artistically inclined or not, to perform well in other subjects or activities. Huber used a sports analogy to make this point, a view he shares with Steinke, noting that no one walks off the street and plays in the Super Bowl. The same holds true for top-level graphic artists, truck drivers, movie directors or plumbers, along with a thousand other professions – all of which start with or are enhanced by a knowledge of art.
Steinke mentioned several times that she was thrilled about the opportunity, not for herself, but rather for the students who will be getting formalized art instruction for the first time, and by extension, the district itself.
“I understand that it’s been long time coming, but Riverside getting its (K-6 art) program back, that’s really, really big,” Steinke said. “I’m excited for Riverside having the opportunity to do this.”
Tom Stephens is a contributing writer for Civitas Media newspapers in Champaign and Logan counties.