My name is Gabriela Ortega. I was born and raised in Mexico. I have been creating art since I was in the first grade. My father was a great influence on my art life. We would sit down together to draw on the weekends. I currently live in San Antonio, TX, and work for Adams Elementary in Harlandale ISD.
This year one of my projects is to have my students get to know the “ninja” artists behind the popular comic characters, the Ninja Turtles: Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo. I have filled a bulletin board with inspired work from the kids as our year progresses.
My proudest achievement was being recognized as Teacher of the Year for my campus and my entire school district. Not every school in Harlandale ISD have art teachers. Most have music teachers. I was hired here eight years ago to start the art program.
Knowing that people notice what you do for the students and that they are grateful for your work is very exciting. I am proud to have so many art contest winners in my school. We are a school of champions! My students have won city wide contests like the Fiesta San Antonio River Parade Poster Contest, and even international poster contests. It is amazing to receive the news that a student won, because it highlights the students, the school, and the community.
Pat: Is your school at STEAM or a STEM school?
Gabriela: No, but STEAM is my goal. Many of our schools do not have an art teacher, but have a music teacher instead. I was specifically hired 8 years ago to start art here at Adams Elementary. We are a small district, but no schools have both music and art teachers; I am expected to teach both art and music, just as music teachers are asked to teach art. I do inservices for the music teachers to show them how to do art lessons in short time spans and still have time to teach their music. The two compliment each other and can be paired with great success. Many of my peers are not musically trained, or if they are music teachers, they do not have art backgrounds.
Pat: Gabriela, if you weren’t teaching,etc. what would you want to do?
Gabriela: I would love to work for Pixar animation studios creating their next animation film. I am fascinated by animation and all the creativity it takes to create an animation movie. I love animation so much that I do it with my students.
Pat: Do you have a magic classroom moment?...or moments?
Gabriela: When I first started teaching, I introduced a city wide poster contest. My students’ response was "We are not going to win; we are competing against the whole city." I convinced them that we needed to try our best to show them the talent Adams Elementary has. The first year it was difficult but when the students saw we got a winner, their mentality changed. My students now know that we will win, that they can be the best. They have a champion's mentality.
Pat: What is the single, easiest (best) way you spark creativity in your students?
Gabriela: I think that my passion for arts reflects that I do art with lots of confidence and my students see that. I think me modeling the strategies and accommodating them to their level gives them the confidence to try it and be successful. Watching me palette knife paint looks so fun and interesting that students can't wait to try it. I even show them how I make mistakes, but mistakes can be fixed with a creative mind, that just blows their minds.
Pat: What do you think most often blocks us or our students creatively? How do you counter that?
Gabriela: The idea of “Perfect”. Students think there is a perfect way of coloring, drawing, painting, etc., and they have these impossible, impractical expectations. I always ask them, “What is perfect? Who makes things perfect?” Usually they cannot answer. That is why I think it is important to show them that mistakes are allowed and, in fact, are an opportunity for creativity. I love teaching them that those mistakes can be fixed, improving their art.
Pat: Do you feel it is important to make art in every classroom? Why or why not? If so...What physical aspects do you insure in your classroom environment for making art?
Gabriela: I think that it is important to incorporate art in the classroom. If we want well rounded students then we must expose them to art. My classroom is an art classroom, therefore I have areas for the pottery wheels, for the kiln, for printmaking, painting, and I set up the classroom depending on the unit I’m teaching.
Pat: If you had a magic wand or special power to make your school into a more magical place...what would you do?
Gabriela: I have a tremendous appreciation for the Fine Arts, and I strongly believe that it creates well rounded students. Therefore I would wave my wand and make a music classroom, a dance classroom, and a theater classroom to go with my art classroom...an entire Fine Arts hallway!
Pat: If you and your students have participated in Everyartist Live, tell us about the event, student participation, valuable outcomes for school and students, plans for future involvement, etc.
Gabriela: Yes, for the last two years, the entire school of about 800 participated. The best outcome I believe was that the other teachers loved it so much they started allowing more time for lessons where they could incorporate art in their classes. The students love the online galleries because they can show their families at home. We have created 30 galleries, one for each classroom. Sometimes even siblings look to see what their brother/sister did in art class two years ago. These galleries help start a tradition of art in families, and the school.