When you walk into Steven Creggerâ€™s art classroom at High Point Elementary School, youâ€™ll find yourself surrounded by colors and energy.
The walls are covered with colorful murals of scenes from around the world, including Egypt, Russia, China and more. The scenes are populated with interesting characters, such as Mickey Mouse.
Cregger is a self-described â€œbig kidâ€ who enjoys teaching art to children.
â€œI love teaching art because not every kid gets a chance to feel successful. Reading is hard for some, or they donâ€™t like it, or math is hard for some. Thereâ€™s not a right or a wrong answer in art class. Thereâ€™s no multiple-choice question where the only answer is C. Iâ€™ve had six-legged elephants, butterflies with impossible wings, cats with two heads, all of which are fine. There isnâ€™t room for creativity or artistic license in algebra, and kids and adults need an outlet where we donâ€™t have to follow a set of rules (except for not cutting their hair with scissors or eating glue sticks). We all need a little freedom,â€ Cregger says.
His studentsâ€™ artwork decorates the schoolâ€™s hallways. Cregger has clotheslines to hold the artwork and also uses other teachersâ€™ cork strips and bulletin boards. â€œWhen students see their artwork in the hall, they show it to their friends and their family. That pride and self-esteem is important because school is hard.â€
He says that he became a teacher rather than pursuing painting because â€œIâ€™m a little all over the place. Iâ€™m a painter first, but I like so much more than that, especially clay and making jewelry. I couldnâ€™t do just one thing, and I love kids. Iâ€™m just a big kid and thatâ€™s why I get along so well with them.
â€œEvery 40 minutes I get a new, fresh crop. After 40 minutes and a project, Iâ€™ll get to do it again with a new class. Iâ€™ll move from painting to clay and then paper mÃ¢chÃ©. I like teaching that way. If Iâ€™m bored teaching something, I know theyâ€™re bored learning about it. I keep everything fun. We tell jokes and dance.â€
In addition to making sure that his students enjoy learning about art, he connects his art to the other subjects his students are taking.
â€œIn third grade they do a huge social studies unit about world cultures. For Egypt, they learn about pyramids, how they were built and more. I give them the opportunity to make a sarcophagus and a mummy and the symbols on the outside. I think the hands-on learning works so much better than a worksheet. Giving them a concrete object to relate to a concept helps. Also, when they see this project 10 years down the road, they can look back and remember what they learned.
â€œFor fourth grade Virginia history, we made little Jamestown houses. Language arts is pretty easy. I read them a story and give them just the words, and they have to illustrate that page. Thatâ€™s hard for them because they want to draw every character, not just what that one page is about. So editing is hard for them.
â€œIn the other classrooms itâ€™s rigorous, and kids are pushed hard. Thatâ€™s good. They need to learn a work ethic. In here they donâ€™t feel that pressure. So, when I teach Egypt, itâ€™s a little more engaging than the classroom style of teaching. I think most people learn better hands-on,â€ he says.
One of his fifth grade projects combines social studies and math. â€œI never dreamed this math project would turn into one of their favorites. In fifth grade, theyâ€™re getting a little older and can handle more difficult projects. They study Native Americans, so we talk about dream catchers. Thatâ€™s the Native American part. The math part is radial symmetry (symmetry around a central axis). They get a bulls eye to start with and whatever they do on one stick, has to be done on another stick, etc. They use the principles of radial symmetry to create their dream catcher,â€ Cregger says.
His projects require a lot of preparation, such as creating all the clay pieces that his students use to create a clay castle. Cregger works on this preparation during his planning period, after school and on Saturdays.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t bother me. I doubt accounting is an accountantâ€™s hobby as well as their profession, but art is mine. Itâ€™s not work if you love it.
â€œTeachers always wonder if weâ€™ve really made an impression. I work with John S. Battle and Abingdon High School marching bands. Now that Iâ€™ve been at this a while, there are kids in band who come up and say â€˜Do you remember when we made those clay castles? I still have mine. I looked at it this morning.â€™ Leaving a little piece of me with them, thatâ€™s what means the most. That they remember these little things we made in class and that they feel good about it,â€ he says.
He recently gave some advice to a friend whoâ€™s working with elementary band students. â€œYou have to be more interesting than a smartphone, tablet, iPad or video game. You have to be just as engaging as a tablet. My goal is to be an iPad with the coolest apps possible, even if itâ€™s an app you have to pay for.â€
> Steven Creggerâ€™s art is on display at school