Jennifer Ferrari teaches art to kids in third, fourth, and fifth grade. Her room at the Lt. Job Lane School and her website and Instagram pages radiate creativity and color.
“I try to put things on social media that get visibility for the kids because they’re so proud of what they do,” she said. “People should appreciate it.”
But that’s just part of the story.
“A strong foundation in art education helps form 21st-century skills that they will need later in life, like critical, analytical thinking, communication, selecting tools and materials,” Ferrari believes. “It’s really that process they go through, much more process than product. I really feel they get way more than art.”
Ferrari, the visual art teacher at Lane School, has been selected as the state’s art educator of the year by the Massachusetts Art Education Association. She will be formally recognized at the group’s fall conference in Worcester on November 12.
Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad, who began his career as an art educator, led the local accolades: “Jennifer is a wonderful teacher who brings joy to our students and her colleagues and her love of the arts helps each child see themselves as an artist and creator.”
Rob Ackerman, Principal at Lane, observed, “Our students and staff are so fortunate to have Ms. Ferrari as the art teacher. When you enter her room, you consistently see students engaged in expressing their creativity. I have no doubt there will be future adult artists who point to Ms. Ferrari as a major source of influence.”
After earning dual bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a master’s degree in educational studies from Springfield College, Ferrari taught art for five years at Northbridge High School, then took another five years to be at home when her two sons were at their youngest.
“And then this job popped up, at the grade level I wanted to work with,” she related. “I wanted to try to catch students at an earlier age in their development so I could instill that passion early on, so they could stick with it.”
Ferrari joined the Lane faculty in the fall of 2020, teaching in a hybrid format and storing her materials on a four-wheeled cart. “The pandemic threw everything for a loop,” she said; this year she finally has a room that’s established.
She sees every Lane student – about 600 of them for one 45 or 50 minute period a week, “which is great because I really like seeing them from one year to the next.” New this year, third graders are making portfolios “so, in two years, they can see their growth.”
Every student makes four or five pieces of art a month, you do the math – that’s a lot.
Ferrari has a specific teaching philosophy. “There’s a progressive movement in art called teaching for artistic behavior (TAB), which was established in 2001 with the belief that the child is the artist, the classroom is the child’s studio, and to guide the curriculum and what happens in the room we answer the question: What do artists do?”
“So, everything that the kids do comes from them. I guide them as the teacher,” she explained. “I think of myself as a curator of what the kids need, like if I see a child is drawn toward collage and they need certain materials or a special tool. They bring the ideas; they bring the motivation. I see myself as an expert who is there to help them and facilitate what they need.
“The kids really like it,” she said. “There are not a lot of parts of their days when they can authentically be themselves and follow their own interests. They are so intrinsically invested in it because it’s theirs. They created it.”
There is a curricular framework, she said, “but it is influenced by the children. I share art and do teacher demonstrations, but I try to keep my time short so I can respond to their emergent needs. I want them to tell me, ‘I want to do this. How can you help me push it to the next level?’”
Ferrari acknowledged that although “there are plenty of kids who can take that community aspect and really focus in, there are some children who struggle with it, and it’s my job to find ways to support them.”
So, she crafted some special tools — a “choice board” and an “idea generator.” Or kids can just stop and think – “it’s okay to let them think a little bit. They don’t have to come up with an answer right away. We do talk about themselves in art and where do artists get ideas. It’s all part of the curriculum.”
One time Ferrari spotted some students doodling, and that opened the door to sharing videos on mr.doodle.com. “They watched him doodle his whole mansion. It’s a valid form of art making. That’s part of what I need to do as their teacher – show them the possibilities of what’s out there.”
That’s also an example of how she employs technology, “if it’s useful.” She is also compiling digital student portfolios.
TAB has its own organization, Teaching for Artistic Behavior, Inc., and Ferrari serves on its board of directors, co-hosts a podcast, and is a regional leader. She provides TAB professional development opportunities for educators.
“The community has made me feel very welcome and supported,” Ferrari testified. “The parents, caregivers, teachers, administrators, School Committee, local and school-based organizations — Bedford Cultural Council, BEST PTO, Bedford Free Public Library — have all been incredibly supportive of and responsive to both me and the program. I’d love to thank them all for their support.”
Sean Hagan, art program director for the four schools, “has been great, very supportive. Everyone in my department is wonderful to work with. It’s a great community.”
“I feel very lucky because I have colleagues across the country and a lot of them don’t feel supported, or who have to work within specific expectations. Here I feel I am trusted to do what’s best.”
The Lane School visual arts website address is: https://sites.google.com/bedfordps.org/laneschoolvisualarts
Ferrari’s Instagram link is www.instagram.com/theroomwithahue
Her Facebook link is www.facebook.com/laneschoolvisualarts