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Now more than ever, it is important for students to have different ways to express their thoughts and feelings.

For Amanda Crawford, a middle school art teacher at Virginia Virtual Academy (VAVA), this is the cornerstone of her online teaching philosophy. She believes that art classes open up educational opportunities to a new group of students. “Art classes are a creative safe space and my students are getting a sense of community and belonging,” she said.

Amanda works to bring her students together through her class and provides opportunities to foster creativity. When her scheduled class field trip to the Visual Arts Center of Richmond was cancelled due to COVID-19, Amanda did not want students to miss out on exploring their imagination through art.

So, she decided to give her students a similar opportunity – from home. She asked to submit their artwork and an explanation of their pieces for a virtual art show hosted on Blackboard.

The art show began with a poem, Azaleas, from a student and was followed by presentations from more than 60 participants. Amanda set up a chat box during the show so students could comment on each other’s pieces.

Emily Nixon, the Gallery Coordinator at the Visual Art Center of Richmond attended the virtual show and selected eight winners—one of whom was sixth-grader Hope Skillings.

“Hope’s piece is really nice and lovely and gives a good, positive, vibe,” said Emily. “Essentially the writing that came with it stood out to me. It was really creative, thoughtful and imaginative, so it was a nice escape for a second.”

Hope created a piece called the Magical Arpillera for the show. She explained that using her imagination and creating a story alongside her artwork was an insightful experience.

“It was a lot of fun to see my artwork and other kids’ artwork,” said Hope. “I was surprised and impressed with the artwork other students created.”

Students’ artwork was not only shown through this virtual presentation, but also lives on with a recording on YouTube. Those students whose artwork was on display shared their appreciation for the opportunity to showcase their interests on a larger stage.

While this is Amanda’s first year teaching art in a virtual school, she is working hard to think of new ways to teach her students. She uses Class Connect sessions for optional art classes and has an ‘Artist Circle’ for students to share and discuss their work in a casual setting.

She also believes that art classes can have a positive impact on a student’s imagination, mental health, and provide a sense of belonging. “It is important for students in both brick-and-mortar and online schools to have the safe space of an art class. The arts provide an intersection for all students to fit in,” Amanda said, while adding that the online classroom inspires her to find new ways to interact with her students.

Despite it being her inaugural year online, Amanda is optimistic for what the future holds in her virtual art classroom. “Teaching art online is challenging but in the right way,” she said.

To learn more about Virginia Virtual Academy, visit https://vava.k12.com/