On the eve of the summer solstice, Immersed is thrilled about this post—all about virtual summer camp, it’s another big first for The New Century School! With Weeks 1 through 4 run by TNCS art teacher Jia Liu, who is also a professional kids’ book illustrator, TNCS virtual art camps are divided into classes for K through 3rd-graders and 4th- through 8th-graders. Art camp runs throughout the summer, and if you haven’t signed your kids up yet, you’re going to want to after you see what campers created in just the first week—and how much fun they had doing it!
(After Week 4, TNCS virtual summer art camps are run by another TNCS Summer Camp favorite, Hilary Christian.)
Master Illustrators Virtual Summer Art Camp
Each day, campers logged into Google classroom, where they were given the theme of the day, a list of supplies to gather, and a Zoom link to join Liu Laoshi and their fellow campers in real time.
As you’ll see, Liu Laoshi makes art not only fun but also relevant in her step-by-step online demos. Campers create art that has meaning for them.
Session 1: Pattern Making
For their first day, campers were asked to bring copy paper, markers, and scissors. They created patterns, which Liu Laoshi turned into virtual pillows!
Session 2: Packaging Illustration
For Day 2, campers were asked to design and illustrate the packaging for a product of their choice, such as a favorite snack. This project combines creativity with a real-world application of art, using drawing paper, markers and scissors.
Session 3: Story Illustration, Day 1
Campers were asked to illustrate part of one of their favorite stories or even a story they wrote themselves (such as shown below), using drawing paper, markers and scissors.
Session 4: Story Illustration, Day 2
The next day, campers put the finishing touches on their illustrations with drawing paper, pencils, markers, and water color and/or tempera paints and painting supplies. “Don’t forget to bring your creative ideas, too!” instructed Liu Laoshi. This image shows an illustration from Hatchet, which was a novel assigned to 5th-graders during the school year.
Session 1: Moving Image
For the last day of Master Illustrators camp, campers learned basic knowledge about animation and GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) and animated their own flip books. They could use drawing paper, pencils, markers, and water color and/or tempera paints and painting supplies.
“The past week has been great!” said Liu Laoshi. “Students and I had a lot of fun, and we didn’t want to end the class every day. They were excited for a new project each day, and they had some great work done! I am looking forward to the coming weeks.”
Lindsey Sandkuhler took over The New Century School‘s mixed age Kindergarten and 1st-grade homeroom for the 2019–2020 school year. Teaching, she says, is “kind of a family profession,” and both of her parents are teachers. She always knew she would follow in their footsteps and attended Towson University to earn a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. She is from Towson and lives there still.
Road to TNCS
From college, Ms. Sandkuhler never looked back. After graduating, she was hired by Harford County public schools, where she had completed her student teaching. There, she taught 4th grade for 2 years, then 2nd grade for 3 years. Next, she says, “I left the county and decided to go for pre-K—big difference!” At a nature-based preschool, she taught 4- and 5-year-olds, then spent an additional 2 years at a different private preschool for 5-year-olds. “Now, I’m here, year 9!”, she said. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind!”
So what did bring her to TNCS? A bit of good timing! Her last school announced in February that it would be closing permanently in June. Ms. Sandkuhler saw that TNCS was hiring, liked what she saw, and applied. She was offered a position the day after she interviewed in May, at least partly because her teaching style meshes so well with TNCS’s educational approach. “It was both a relief not to have to scramble for employment as well as very exciting for me to embark on this new adventure,” she explained.
Back to liking what she saw, the aspects that most appealed to her about TNCS were precisely what makes TNCS the school that it is, particularly, small class sizes, the emphasis on The Arts, and differentiated learning. “I have done a lot of different kinds of teaching for a lot of different ages,” she said, which has given her insight into what works in early childhood and lower elementary education.
I really love how small the classes are. In the county public school, at one time, I had 28 2nd-graders in my class with no aide; it was just me. I felt like I couldn’t reach all my students. There was no way, and I burned out because of that. I was trying to get to everybody, and I just couldn’t do it. One of the great things here is the small class sizes. By week 3 I already had a good grasp on where most of my students are.
It’s a story we hear time and again about teachers being underresourced and, by consequence, students often winding up underserved. At TNCS, Ms. Sandkuhler has a very manageable 14 in one class and 13 another. “That’s amazing,” she says, “and I love that it’s so centered around where the students are. Yes, we’re going to encourage them and challenge them, but not to the point of frustration.”
She is here again making a comparison to her stint in the county public school system. “You had to stay on pace. If your students didn’t understand addition, too bad, you had to move on to subtraction because the test is happening on this day coming soon, regardless. That’s another reason I needed to move on. I felt bad for the kids. They weren’t ready, which was totally fine by me—we all learn differently—but that’s not how the county saw it. It was not okay.”
Ms. Sandkuhler teaches Math and English Language Arts (ELA), the two core subjects. She shares the K/1st cohort with Pei Ge, who teaches Global Studies, Science, and Mandarin. When asked about TNCS’s multilingual bent, she says, “I was very forthcoming at my interview about not being bilingual, and it wasn’t a blocker. But I think it’s wonderful to start teaching language so young. My students are now teaching me things in Spanish and Chinese, which is really cool.”
Love of Art and Nature
So what makes Ms. Sandkuhler tick besides a love of teaching? “I love art. My sister is an artist, a sculptor, so I live vicariously through her sometimes,” she said. “When I taught pre-K, during the kids’ naptime, I’d sit and watch YouTube videos on how to do calligraphy, and I would practice during my downtime. That’s something I had always wanted to learn. It’s very therapeutic. I like to draw and paint, too.”
In addition to making art, Ms. Sandkuhler enjoys being outside in nature (hence the nature-based preschool), especially hiking. Her parents live in an idyllic setting on the Choptank River in Dorchester County, and she goes there to kayak, crab, and fish. She describes her mother’s love of hummingbirds and the handheld feeders that the birds will come feed out of if you remain still enough. “Sometimes it’s so nice to get out and away,” she said.
Not surprisingly, her pursuits out of the classroom influence her approach inside it: “Parents should know that I’m creative. I’m patient with the students. If they’re not getting something a certain way, then we’ll try a different approach. Basically, I’ll be their kid’s advocate for the school year.” Among a parent community that values art, creativity, and compassion, this will all come as very welcome news. There are additional benefits as well, including the cognitive gains that come with the synergy between art and academic disciplines:
The county schools are so into math and reading—which is fine, I get that, but they’ll take away band and art. Those are the first things to go. But, for kids who might be struggling with math and reading, the arts might be the only thing they look forward to at school. If they can’t have a reason to go to school, the other subjects are just going to suffer more. So, I really feel strongly that creativity needs to be incorporated not just in art class, but throughout the curriculum, including my subjects, math and ELA. I just find it very important. More understanding starts to open up for the child.