Larger classes force art out of grade school

Staff writer

Marion Elementary School will no longer offer its once-a-week art class to its students, a change made because of abnormally high enrollment numbers for the incoming kindergarten class, principal Justin Wasmuth said.

After anticipating an enrollment of between 40 and 45 students, a class of 52 enrolled this past week. He said the average kindergarten class is between 38 and 40 students.

“This is by far our largest class since I’ve been here,” said Wasmuth, who’s been at the school for four years.

In order to adapt to the large number of students, Wasmuth said the school had to make some changes.

Overcrowded classrooms won’t be a problem, as the school hired a third full-time kindergarten teacher, Dani Lange, to share in the load of students.

Lange will transition from a part-time position as the art teacher to a full-time role as the third kindergarten teacher. However, Lange will be using the same classroom she did last year, the school’s art room, as the school has temporarily cut its art program.

“We’re working more hands-on with STEM problem-solving methods,” Wasmuth said, referring to a national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics initiative. “We’ll be doing more a logic-based program with that type of learning.”

Cutting art frees up space and a teacher for the extra kindergarten class and saves money for the school’s budget.

“Art was more a supplemental program,” Wasmuth said. “It’s been good, but it hasn’t been a primary subject.”

Wasmuth said most of the feedback he’s received from parents who’ve heard about the change has been understanding. The issue will be discussed with more parents at the school’s open house today.

He hopes the cut is only temporary.

“We don’t want to lose art,” he said. “That’s not at all what we want.”

Lange, who previously taught fifth and sixth graders in California, said she is excited for the opportunity to teach kindergarten full-time. She said she will incorporate art into her everyday activities.

“There’s a lot of ways for elementary school teachers to incorporate art into their classes,” Lange said. She said she will teach STEAM learning, which is the same as the STEM initiative, but with an art component.

Lange acknowledged that she will miss teaching art, where she could interact with all the kids in the school, but said she understands district superintendent Lee Leiker has to make difficult choices for the good of the district.

Wasmuth said it will be a year-to-year situation with the class, and that next year a third class may not be necessary when the children advance to first grade, since enrollment numbers tend to fluctuate.

“It’s a great problem to have,” Wasmuth said of the enrollment boon, citing additional state funding and a growing school. “It’s a different experience for me. I’m learning from it too.”

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