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Awards & Honors

‘A voice amidst all the chaos’

Teachers draw out students’ feelings through NYCATA pandemic project
New York Teacher
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A 7th-grader at MS 74 in Queens shows the "never-ending whirlpool of technology."

Rahya McClaire, a 9th-grader at Humanities and Arts HS in Queens, created an artwork vision of herself, masked and entangled in bold yellow CAUTION tape. Still, she is optimistic: “We will break free from this virus,” she wrote.

Her winning artwork with commentary was among 97 student entries from 18 city schools exhibited in “Inside/Outside 21: Young Artists Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The New York City Art Teachers Association/UFT (NYCATA) challenge asked art teachers and their students — from elementary to high school — to create visual images of their feelings and concerns this school year.

McClaire’s art teacher, Jane Judson, had students make lists of words they associated with their isolation during the pandemic and then digitally create an image to express one of those words. Isabele Herrai, another of Judson’s 9th-graders, won for her image of a person suffering stress and anxiety while trapped in a bubble. “My bubble has to be popped,” the commentary read.

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Rahya McClaire, also of Humanities and Arts HS, created a self-portrait with CAUTION tape.

“This exhibit gives students a voice amidst all the chaos, and the confidence to express themselves through art,” said Judson. She noted that her students successfully made the transition to digital art because of the lack of materials for remote art classes.

For teacher Gwen Baltimore’s District 75 students at PS 993@208 in Queens, art class has been “a place where they have felt safe to share the fear, loneliness and anxiety they have been experiencing throughout this difficult time,” she said.

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A student at P993 @ 208 in Queens depicts sadness.

After looking at artwork and describing the feelings they thought the artist was trying to evoke, “students were eager to create their own pieces of art to show their feelings,” Baltimore said.

The winning entries were first exhibited on May 26 at a virtual opening and reception and can now be viewed on the NYCATA  website. Exhibit Coordinator Joan Davidson, a retired art teacher and the former NYCATA chair, designed a resource/curriculum guide for participating teachers which can also be accessed on the NYCATA website.

Mario Asaro, the executive chair of NYCATA, thanked teachers and students for “using your creativity to share your feelings about this unique and trying moment in our history to help us all get through it a little more easily.”

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Isabele Herrai of Humanities and Arts HS in Queens created an image of a person suffering stress and anxiety while trapped in a bubble.
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An 8th-grader at Seth Low IS in Brooklyn illustrates the traumas of COVID-19.