Mary Beth Whitecotton: Pre-K - 5th Grade Visual Arts
Southwest Elementary, Savannah, Georgia
Population: approximately 750 students
I work at Southwest Elementary in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System in Savannah, Georgia. This is my first year at Southwest Elementary. We are a Title 1 school and just this year we become an Impact school. An impact school means that our test scores did not meet the standards last year.
We started school on July 28th and the students came back on August 3rd. The last two years I taught at Juliette Low Elementary (also in Savannah-Chatham County). Before that I taught in Columbus, Georgia for five years at Eagle Ridge Academy. So, this will be my eighth year teaching K-5 Visual Arts, and I am really excited for this new year at Southwest Elementary!
I am 31 years old, and I grew up in the mountains of Northeast, Georgia in a little town called Clarkesville. I went to Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia where I graduated with my Bachelors in Visual Arts and my Masters in Art Education.
While in college, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Italy, Ireland, and Japan. All three of these experiences had a huge impact on me as an artist.
My main concentrations are sculpture and ceramics, mixed-media paintings, and I am also a jewelry artist. I am a plein air painter, but instead of the typical style of plein air, I create mixed-media paintings on wood using natural materials; sand, shells, feathers, etc.. I am highly influenced by the beauty of nature. All of the jewelry that I make is made of natural beads including bone, animal teeth, natural stones, shells, and wood.
Just recently I put my jewelry for sale in two galleries where I live. The Savannah Arts Association Gallery in Chippewa Square, Savannah, Georgia and the Tybee Cottage Gallery in Tybee Island, Georgia.
Stellar Moments in Teaching:
For me, the greatest moments in teaching are when I get to showcase my student’s amazing artwork. I believe that it is very important for students to get recognition for the hard work that they do in the classroom. I believe in a sense of community and the power that it brings to the art classroom. I am always looking for opportunities to get my students involved in the community, and I am very fortunate to live in a city that is supportive of the arts.
Savannah provides an abundance of art-related opportunities in which to get my students involved. There are wonderful art museums including the Jepson and Telfair Art Museums. Last year I was able to display my student’s work in several different places including the Jepson Museum of Art, Savannah Mall, Georgia Southern University, and even the capitol building in Atlanta.
At the end of the school year I had an art show at the school in the gym for our last PTA program. It was really cool to see how excited the students were to see their artwork on display.
Last year, a stellar moment for me was starting an art club at my school. It included ten 5th grade students and we were able to do some really amazing work together.
I teamed up with my dear friend, Molly Lieberman, the creator of “Loop It Up” Savannah, a non-profit organization that brings art programs to public schools and residential areas in Savannah. With her help, we were able to bring experiences to my school that otherwise they never would have been able to experience. I was able to display their artwork at places like the Savannah Mall and the Annual A-Town Get Down Art and Music Festival. The kids were so proud of their hard work; it was really special for all of us. It’s moments like these that make teaching art the BEST career on the planet.
Last, my motto in my art classroom is: “Make Your Mistakes Something Great!” I stress to my students that EVERYONE makes mistakes. I tell them that even the most famous of artists make mistakes and instead of giving up, those artists found ways to turn their mistakes into beautiful masterpieces. In my class they are not allowed to start over when they make a mistake. Instead, they have to use their creativity to fix their mistake and turn it into something great. I get extremely happy when I see my students learning creative problem-solving skills and figuring out ways to fix their mistakes.
In the last issue of Everyartist Everyday we highlighted a book in Curator’s Corner about making mistakes, My Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg. If you haven’t yet, check it out.