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  • Words by Amanda Seevers / Photography by Tanja

Art Is Sew Awesome at Clarendon Elementary School


Supporting Arkansas teachers at the elementary school level is an important element of Thea’s Art Closet program. Last month, we drove a little over an hour outside of Little Rock to Clarendon, where a rural farming community continues to navigate major issues, including poverty. For this particular trip, we sought to visit with Katelyn Dancer, a remarkable teacher at Clarendon Elementary School who has received Art Closet project funding from Thea Foundation since 2016. A recent project of hers titled “Sew Awesome: Let’s Get a Fiber Arts Center” was fully funded during the first few weeks of the new school year.

Katelyn is a native of Clarendon with many of her colleagues being teachers she learned from when she was in grade school. After attending college at Ouachita Baptist University, she decided to return home and help inspire students to think creatively and use art as an outlet. Approximately 98% of Katelyn’s students receive free or reduced-price lunch at this time.

“My students are not stopped by poverty,” said Katelyn. “Though they live in the Arkansas Delta and many have never left the town they live in, they are hungry for information and eager to create in my art room.”

Upon entering Katelyn’s classroom, we noticed stations set up for working in different art mediums. Katelyn shared she implements “choice-based” curriculum in her classroom, where students are given the option to select from four different centers: building, drawing/collage, painting, and sewing. Her funded Art Closet project helped flesh out the supplies needed to support her sewing/fiber arts center.

Katelyn shared with us that her decision to incorporate options for her students derived from her need to accommodate some behavioral issues she’s experienced, largely due to the side effects of poverty. With varying stations available, Katelyn is able to aid her kinesthetic learners and create healthy learning environments for students who often have trouble sitting still.

When her students were asked to select their desired station to work on that day, we were happy to see so many students gravitate toward the fiber arts center we helped fund. The students, all third graders during the class period we visited, were attentive when Katelyn showed how to thread a needle, helping reinforce their fine motor skills.

"Now that the center is in full swing, I have so many little hands threading needles, tying knots, and making their own creations," said Katelyn. She also shared with us that her 6th grade students have made great progress using the sewing machine we funded, including producing small, usable items such as pillows.

Teachers like Katelyn are ones who desperately need our support with so many of the rural areas of Arkansas lacking in available funding to support creative learning. Each class period, Katelyn concludes by asking willing students to share their work and what motivated them to make it. Her students are taught to respect one another while they discuss their work. We feel Katelyn's classroom is a unique and very innovative environment for Clarendon's youth to learn in, and we're happy to support her important instruction.

Katelyn has submitted a second Art Closet project this semester for additional supplies to expand on her current building center option for her students. Thea Foundation has already supplied 50% funding for this project, and we hope the project will be fully funded within the next couple of weeks. Currently, all public elementary school teachers are eligible for funding from Thea’s Art Closet for up to $500 for a project valued at $1,000 or less.

About Thea Foundation’s Art Closet Program

For the 2019-20 school year, Thea Foundation will fund $100k in grants to Arkansas public school teachers in need of art supplies and creative materials. This amount is double what we were able to fund during the previous school year so we look forward to increasing this momentum to further support our state’s educators who desperately need resources to create enriching educational experiences for their students. Last year, Thea’s Art Closet funded 145 different projects in classrooms at 88 public schools across the state. With the increase in available funding, applicable Arkansas public school teachers are able to submit two projects for funding per semester (four projects per school year). More information about Thea's Art Closet, including how to submit a project for possible funding, can be found here.

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