Central Texas Teacher's Love of Art Passed Along to Students

After spending a couple years behind a desk as a graphic designer, Jennifer Easterling decided she needed a change and found her passion in teaching.

"The rewards of teaching, as far as getting to interact with the kids, and getting to know them on a different level and helping to push them to find their passions, that's what does it," she said. "Thinking if I were to step outside the classroom, I don't know what I would do."

The Eagle reports Easterling, the middle school and upper school art teacher at Allen Academy in Bryan, has now been working in education for 10 years.

One of her goals is to get the students to learn to appreciate art and to get them to explore outside of their comfort zone. Since 2018, Easterling, who has worked at Allen Academy for three years, has overseen the Allen Explorers program, in which a group of students travel to another country for a week or so.

"My big thing is, and what I've done with the international travel and stuff, is using the world as their classroom," she said. "There are things that we learn here, and then taking those skills and applying them wherever else we may be or gaining skills from a living working artist. . Putting them out there and learning from other people, not just me sitting in a classroom lecturing and seeing how other people are applying those skills and how somebody's able to make a living out of it or even a lifetime."

It was a study abroad trip to Italy that unlocked Easterling's passion for art. She said her high school in Lubbock did not offer art, and her first true experience of an art museum was in college when she traveled to Florence and visited the Uffizi Gallery.

"We would never just travel to Dallas -- six hours away -- just to go to a museum. We just never did that, so I didn't even really know what the Uffizi was. . I walk around a corner and there is The Birth of Venus by (Sandro) Botticelli, and it's massive on this wall. It just hit me. It was one of those moments where, I don't know, just this powerful emotion just hit me. I had goosebumps and chills, and I just remember standing there in awe, just face to face with this massive artwork, and then it's sister piece right there beside it," she said.

In her class, she lets the students learn more about art from around the world with an art of the week in which she and the students look at the piece, discuss it and analyze it, noting the lesson exposes the students to more than just American or European art.

When students leave her class, Easterling said, she just wants them to have an appreciation for art.

"Art may not be your forte or your thing; you may not do it all of your life or you might in which I'd love to see that too, but if you can at least appreciate it and understand what people are doing and why they're doing it," she said.

Senior Kendall Kacal said Easterling brought a different energy to the art room, noting the previous teacher had a much more structured classroom.

"You get a lot of freedom when you're able to work underneath her," Kacal said. "You're still able to learn the techniques and all the new things . but I've been able to do crazy projects and just explore my own personality and style through art and learn about myself through learning through different art and finding my style by her teaching us her passion for it."

Though it is an art room, Easterling said, therapy sessions sometimes come out of the class.

"There are a lot of life lessons that, I think, happen in here," she said. "We chat about all kinds of things when kids are working on stuff. We have all kinds of, I guess, therapy sessions. It's fun because you do get to know the kids on a whole new level than if you're just up lecturing because you work and you chat and solve all of life's problems."

Kacal said those chats are some of her favorite things about Easterling's class.

"We talk a lot, just about family, about school. I've been at this school for 15 years, so I give her some context about why things are the way they are sometimes. . Me and her always have really deep conversations about anything really, what's going on, our interests. A lot about life," she said. "It just brings a sense of, we call it the 'Allen Family,' and she definitely brought that. I don't know if she expected to be immersed into the family that Allen is, but it is a family, and she fits in perfectly here."

That comfort Kacal has talking to Easterling and her other teachers is a skill, she said, she knows will help her as she moves on to college and beyond.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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