by DeeGee Lester, Director of Education The Parthenon
Looking back, we can all recognize and relate to the funny and awkward middle-school years and the challenge of starting to tap into our individuality and finding where we fit. Those pre-teen years are a see-saw of emotions —the thrill of acceptance and gut-wrenching rejection; of being cool and feeling left out. Self-expression through art becomes, for many, a way to navigate through these years.
“I attempt to present various problems which my students can solve with art,” says Jan Hatleberg, art specialist at Meigs Middle Magnet Prep for sixteen years. “I feel that the visual arts can allow students to develop various technical skills, which lead to creating visual images that express their individual views about themselves and their place in the world.”
Having also taught at the elementary and college levels (at MTSU, Volunteer State, and Austin Peay), Hatleberg is cognizant of the ways art can instill confidence in young students. She sees fifth graders entering their middle school experience with art experience.
“I can elaborate on the students’ ability to write and creatively reflect about art. And I can further develop my students’ understanding of their art and the world because of that strong arts foundation that is found in the visual arts programs in elementary school,” she says.
As they proceed through middle school, students explore and learn about artists and their styles as well as the basics in various art genres. By 7th and 8th grade, they are working in themes and technical aspects, and then she invites them to go beyond the technical and to call into being their own thoughts and unique voice. “That’s the hardest part,” she says. And what she looks for in the work of each student are persistence and clarity.
As a further step in confidence for their own artistic voice, Hatleberg displays outstanding work and offers 7th and 8th grade artists the opportunity to step up their game, competing with high-school talent in the prestigious Scholastic Art Competition each spring.
Meigs is one of the few middle schools to submit annually to Scholastic, and Hatleberg’s students have captured at least one award each year, including two Gold Key recipients in 2016. At the recent 2017 presentation, Meigs students captured three Silver Key awards: Eden Sekwat (photography), and Gracie Kemper and Anabel Canedo (print-making).
Their submissions were all classroom assignments, but in finding and expressing their own voices, each of these artists also demonstrates the ability to communicate their vision with a wider audience. That power of art to transform by giving voice is important to the development of the whole student at a crucial time in life. “Every day I learn something new, along with how to be a better teacher, from my students,” Hatleberg explains. “They help me to see the world through their point of view.”