Phillip C. Showell Elementary School art teacher Laurie Hall didn’t always want to teach art.
“I went through a medical-thriller book phase” as a teen, she said. “I wanted to be an epidemiologist.”
She also had a fondness for art. however, and “I always loved my elementary school art teachers. I always used to play school, too.”
And in her junior year in high school, Hall said, “something just clicked.” She majored in elementary education at Frostburg State University and followed that with a master’s degree at George Mason University in “initiatives in educational transformations,” which involved work on bringing visiting artists to schools on Delmarva.
Hall is the 2017 Teacher of the Year for Phillip Showell. She has been at the Selbyville elementary school for five years. During that time, she spent two years without a classroom of her own, pushing her “art cart” from room to room throughout the day.
“It was actually a really good thing for me. It made me be really organized!” she said. Now, however, Hall has her own room, the walls of which are brimming with recent student work.
She is also certified as a special-education teacher and spends part of each week “pushing in” to special-education classrooms. While her work as the school’s art teacher allows her to work with every student in the school each week, she said she also enjoys her special-education classwork, in which she works one-on-one with students or with small groups.
Hall said she enjoys teaching the different grade levels because she sees such progression in the children from year to year, and each grade calls for different teaching techniques and skills. “I love kindergarten, in that everything is new and so exciting to them,” she said.
As the students grow, Hall said, she is able to give them “a little more freedom” each year, and by fourth grade, “I feel like I give them a lot more detailed projects. There’s no time for ‘fluff’” in the higher grades because she is trying to squeeze more intense work into the same 40-minute class period.
By the time the students reach fifth grade, she said, “Compared to kindergarten, it feels like I’m teaching high school.”
Hall said she relishes the chance to get to know each student in the school as they come through her classroom each week.
“I love knowing everybody’s name,” she said. “That’s my goal — to feel like I have a good relationship with every student.”
Through art, Hall teaches her students about the world around them and pulls what they are learning in their core classes into the art room. Students are currently involved in a Reader’s Theater project, in which they are building sets and puppets and will eventually put together a performance. Another project involves participation in the state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control’s rain barrel decorating contest.
Showell students’ artwork might even make it into space in the coming months. Hall is in the early stages of working on a project in which the students would decorate the nose cone of a NASA sounding rocket.
Exposing her students to different media and letting them try new things is important to Hall. Although she said she focused on ceramics in college, “I always assumed I was a painter,” she said, adding that college also taught her that she didn’t have to be good at every kind of art. “I remember my first drawing class,” she said. “I was terrible.” Now, she emphasizes to her students that “you might not be a painter” but encourages them to try each area.
Another of Hall’s goals is to increase community involvement in the school. She brought in local artist John Donato last year to work with students on a mural project, which she said was very successful, and she hopes to continue similar projects.
Through funding from the SouthEastern Delaware Artists’ Studio Tour (SEDAST), Hall has been able to purchase sketchbooks for some grade levels, which she is now able to allow students to keep from year to year. “They are really enjoying that,” she said.
She praised the staff at Phillip Showell, which she said shares her goal of building relationships with students.
“It’s so cool to see everybody do that here,” she said. “This school is amazing. … I wish people could come and see what we’re doing here.”
Phillip Showell Principal Karen Clausen said she “could talk all day” about the contributions Hall makes to the school and the community.
“Laurie is such an asset to our building,” Clausen said, adding that Hall’s dual certification as an art teacher and special-ed teacher is a major advantage in a small school. “She is such a hard worker,” Clausen said.
“She is continually looking at the big picture,” Clausen added.
Hall’s involvement in the school’s “positive behavior support system” includes the mural project, which portrays the good behaviors the school seeks to instill in its students.
Hall also organized a “kindness bracelet” project for the students, which was another reinforcement of positive behaviors, working in particular with school counselors on that project.
“She is very involved in the school as a whole,” Clausen said. “She is very adept at working with other teachers” and incorporating other classes and other school activities into art class, such as contributing student artwork for decorations for school concerts.
Clausen also praised Hall’s efforts to reach out into the community for the benefit of the students and the school.
“She loves the whole picture of that parent-school-community piece,” Clausen said, adding that Hall has sought numerous grants through Donors Choose.