At one time or another, your child has probably taken an art class—whether it was a hand-traced turkey for Thanksgiving or a painting that could (maybe) rival Van Gogh. For some, art is just the blow-off class where they can turn their brains off and doodle a bit. For others, art is where they feel like they can truly be themselves, where they can let off steam and communicate in the best way they can.
In Anne Quaintance Howard’s Plano classroom, middle school students can’t help but catch the passion and inspiration that flows when she teaches. Howard, aka Ms. Q, has worked incredibly hard to fund and focus on art in school, and it seems her school’s administration has also caught the bug, as they are mightily in her corner. Ms. Q is a fighter, for art and for her own health after a recent cancer diagnosis, and she is facing both battles with vigor.
DFWChild: In schools, there’s usually a lack of support and funding. How have you worked through that? Ms. Q: I think middle school students are really ready to experience new things, and that means different mediums, and that means money. There have been many times where I’m trying to make a project work off what I can find or what someone contributed. It’s really tough. Luckily, I’ve had wonderful support from administration. About four years ago my former principal, who happened to love art and was a member of the Dallas Museum of Art, told me he was increasing my budget, and I just about fell over from excitement. I didn’t ask him for it, we just had had conversations and he knew what I was trying to work with. So on his own volition he got me more money. I knew it meant I could do so much more for my kids.
My current principal is also really supportive; he allows me to take my advanced students to the SMU Meadows art school and Meadows Museum every year, which is just amazing for them to experience. When you’ve been doing this teaching thing for so long, you wonder if you’re making a difference. But after [I won] an award in 2015, my students all stood and applauded (it was an emotional moment, for sure), and another in 2017 that the president of the Texas Art Education Association nominated me for, I saw people do realize how important art is.
Child: How are you continuing to ensure that art gets the focus and funds it deserves? Ms. Q: Well, we really watch our pennies and every drop of paint and adjust lesson plans and so on. The district gives a fixed amount. The rest of our budget comes from the school or PTA. Luckily, I’ve had support from our PTA; they’ve come to me and ask what I need. They’ve given aprons, mat cutters, an artwork hanging system and a clay slab roller in previous years.
“Art brings you back to center, so when the world gets wonky, take your sketchpad somewhere, just sit and draw.”
Child: What are you hoping to instill in your students? Ms. Q: Every Friday I have a video that shows some quirky artists who combine art with something else. I want them to see that art can be a part of anything—it doesn’t have to stand alone. Also, I want my students to see artists’ point of views, where they came from and where they’re going. It relates to a lot of the kids; they sometimes wonder, “Am I out of line for thinking this way?” but then they see others going that direction and that means a lot to them.
I call middle school the light bulb years—they’re coming out of elementary school as little kids and don’t know which way is up. Everything’s a roller coaster. Then they go to high school and have to focus on the future. Middle school is that breaking point of where they’re still kids but finding themselves too. I want my students to be happy with who they are more than anything.
Child: You’re such an inspiration to your students and alums, but what inspires you? Ms. Q: With my cancer diagnosis in February and six rounds of treatment that finished barely before school started, I knew I had to be around my students. I practically had to arm-wrestle my doctor into letting me; I couldn’t sit anymore. Being with them is good for me—they inspire me.
Also, I don’t do it very often, but when I do my own art I feel inspired. The medium I choose to work with depends on what mood I’m in, too. For example, if I need absolute quiet or the need to express myself, then I’ll work with watercolor or a pencil drawing. If I need to get out of my head, I’ll get on the [pottery] wheel because it requires a lot of concentration. On the wheel everything else goes away.
Child: Do you see or hear from prior students who have continued in art? What are they up to? Ms. Q: There have been so many; I have former students in business, medicine, finance, prosthetics, animation and so many different areas where art intersects. One former student asked me what she should do (career-wise) because she couldn’t choose. I asked her, “Why do you have to choose? Make your own path!” There’s no right or wrong in art; just forge your own way. That’s what I want for them. Art brings you back to center, so when the world gets wonky, take your sketchpad somewhere, just sit and draw.
How parents can show their support for the arts, according to Ms. Q:
“Be involved in shows, art club, National Junior Art Honor Society. There are also projects parents can do, and fundraising. Just get out and do art things with your kids along with going to your school’s administration and just show your support. The school board needs to know about that. This is where the creative mind really starts. Finally, advocate for STEAM, not just STEM; the arts develop the creativity and vision that is essential to innovation.”
For more information about National Art Honor Society and National Junior Art Honor Society, go to arteducators.org.
Images courtesy of Anne Quaintance Howard.