The Children’s Art Club, a free community art class offered through Arts Integration Menomonie, gives emerging artists and teachers in UW-Stout’s art education program hands-on experience from the moment they step on campus.
The club is held every Tuesday evening during the school year for children in kindergarten through grade eight. Art education seniors Elsbeth Bandli, of Sun Prairie, and Olivia Bonlander, of Chilton, have served as CAC co-coordinators and lead instructors for the past two years. In that time, they’ve become close friends.
“CAC provides a place, whether it be in person or virtual, for preservice educators, professors and community members to share in the joy of creating,” Bandli said.
In 2019-20, about 25 children attended their classes each week at the University Library, until the campus closed in March 2020 because of COVID-19. For the remainder of the spring semester, Bandli and Bonlander needed to prepare virtual classes. They created prerecorded lessons, which they posted on AIM’s Facebook page.
“We were scared what would become of CAC once we went virtual. We realized we were not going to get to see the kids interact in the artmaking process, which was such a huge part of why CAC was amazing,” Bonlander said.
For the 2020-21 school year, they proposed a synchronous virtual option to art education Program Director Ann Oberding and Assistant Professor Tami Weiss, executive director of AIM. Classes met virtually in Microsoft Teams, with 15 to 20 children attending each week. Bandli and Bonlander coordinated the pick-up of free art kits for registrants at the beginning of each semester.
Children were instructed on how to create collages, acrylic paintings, drawings and other projects following a theme. This year’s theme was Artists of the Past, Present and Future, which focused on historical and contemporary artists. The club has ended for the school year and will begin again in September when families can register on the AIM website.
Casey Olson loves seeing her daughter Sophia’s artwork expand and develop over the course of the year. “When the class is over each week, she runs out of her room to excitedly inform me all about the artist of the night and the techniques they used. The class has been a great outlet for her to collaborate with other kids who also enjoy art,” Olson said.
Bandli and Bonlander stress that the children are the artists of the future and included artistic choices for them to express themselves. Coordinating CAC has helped them learn from the children and about themselves as educators.
Deanna Schultz, interim associate dean of the College of Education, Hospitality, Health and Human Sciences, was impressed by what the art education students accomplished virtually this past year. “It’s a great example of being innovative in teaching something that is so hands-on,” she said.
Building community through art experiences
Lead CAC instructors serve as student mentors for first-year students in the Art Education Introductory course as they teach for the first time in the art club.
“In this way, Children's Art Club is really special,” Oberding said. “We believe support right from the beginning of their experience at Stout is what sets us apart from other programs, as well as joining with the rest of our polytechnic tenants.”
As a mentor, Bonlander enjoys aiding in the education of future educators. “Students helping other students and creating a sense of solidarity is vital to being successful within the program and feeling as if you are a part of a community,” she said.
Bonlander loves the interactions she sees at CAC between the instructors and children. “Oftentimes, CAC is the first teaching experience art education students have. Seeing them feel comfortable and starting conversations with children always makes my heart warm,” she said. “The relationships that I have built with students over the past two years is the exact reason why I want to be a teacher.”
Bailey Iwen is the incoming CAC coordinator. She wants to help children grow their knowledge and skills and help them see the world as a better place. She’s preparing different themes for new projects, as well as traditional styles for building art skills.
“Teaching art is so much more than crafts and projects. It is preparing future generations to think creatively, see reality in its rawest form and engage with the wonders of the world,” she said. “Children’s Art Club provides such a wholesome opportunity for students to partake in, learning about art and creating together. I couldn’t help but be a part of it.”
Iwen, a sophomore from Merrill, choose UW-Stout’s art education program because her high school art teacher was an alum.
“I’m grateful for the education she provided me. I want to return the favor to students of my own someday. I figured the best way to start would be earning the most similar education,” she said.
PAINT internship program
Another program made possible through AIM is the Program for Arts Integration for New Teachers. PAINT offers art education students internships to teach arts-based classes in the Menomonie community.
Bandli and Bonlander participated in various internships through PAINT, including internship supervisor, residency teacher positions at area schools, teaching art at the Parks and Recreation Center, AIM mindfulness mentor and art education social media coordinator.
“PAINT gave me real-life experiences I would not have received otherwise,” Bonlander said. “I am to the point in my education that my main role is helping others become amazing educators. I think that says a lot about PAINT.”
When Bandli entered the art education program, she was inspired by the amazing things the PAINT interns were doing and knew she wanted to make an impact as a leader in the program.
“My internships increased my confidence and competence as a preservice teacher. I practiced mindfulness and made friendships and connections with the community that made me a happier student and reaffirmed my commitment to teaching,” Bandli said. “I know that Olivia and I will continue to support each other as we enter the teaching profession.”
Bandli will student teach this fall and graduate in December. She hopes to teach at an elementary school and remain involved with the AIM grant as an alum. “I hope to visit and give back to a college program that has taught me so much,” she said.
Bonlander will graduate in spring 2022. She has a minor in English writing and literature. She hopes to teach in either middle or high school.
AIM develops art programs to support new teachers in partnership with UW-Stout, the arts education and early childhood education programs, and the School District of the Menomonie Area.
UW-Stout’s School of Education has prepared teachers and educators since 1891. It offers seven undergraduate programs, five graduate programs and post-baccalaureate educator certifications.