Nation s Highest Honor for Preservice Art Educators Goes to KCAD Student for Second Straight Year

Posted August 8, 2018 in Art Education, Student

The key to beating long odds is hard work and dedication–just ask the Art Education program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD).

Recent Art Education graduate Grace Springsteen was recently named Preservice Art Educator of the Year by the National Art Education Association (NAEA) at the NAEA National Convention in Seattle, just one year after Maggie Livengood (’17, BFA Art Education) received the same distinction.

Woman stares confidently into the cameraGrace Springsteen (image courtesy of Grace Springsteen)

The NAEA rarely gives this award to students from the same institution back-to-back. In fact, the likelihood of a repeat was so slim that Professor and Art Education Program Chair Dr. Cindy Todd nearly forwent nominating a student this year, but Springsteen’s remarkable achievements ultimately convinced her to go for it.

“Grace is too stellar for me not to have nominated her,” says Dr. Todd. “She’s always been willing to go above and beyond, and to put herself in uncomfortable positions so that she could grow. That’s a hard thing to do, but I have seen her just blossom.”

Springsteen, who also received the Art Education program’s Excellence Award for 2018, is happy to see her hard work pay off, calling the award a “huge honor,” but she’s quick to point out how the Art Education program has helped drive her success.

“I couldn’t be prouder, but really this award is a validation of what the program is doing,” she says. “It’s been a perfect fit for me.”

After high school, Springsteen entered an urban planning program at another university, but during a break in her freshman year, an experience volunteering in the art room at her old elementary school inspired her to transfer to KCAD’s Art Education program. She says she was excited by the program’s emphasis on curriculum design driven by cutting edge brain research and a heightened understanding of the larger issues surrounding K-12 education in America.

“You take these two things and put them together and you really see the possibilities emerge,” says Springsteen. “It feels really amazing to know that I have the opportunity to go out into the world and make change.”

Like Livengood, Springsteen made the most of the Art Education program’s integrated experiential component. As they progress through the program, students move from building and testing lesson plans in the sandbox of their KCAD classroom to engaging in real-world learning experiences in a wide variety of educational environments. A 40-hour placement, followed by an 80-hour placement and, eventually, a semester-long student teaching assignment, help them bridge theory and practice while being mentored every step of the way by experienced art teachers.

Springsteen’s 40-hour placement at Allendale High School and 80-hour placement at Rockford High School were a wakeup call. The experiences showed her that her own education wasn’t a guarantee, but an opportunity she’d need to take full advantage of in order to become an impactful teacher.

“Our faculty do an excellent job preparing us, but once I was in the classroom it was a whole different thing,” she recalls. “You’re drawing on all you’ve learned, but when different situations arise you have to react in the moment.”

More often than not, that meant leveraging the Art Education program’s focus on accommodating multiple intelligences, different learning styles, and individual student needs while also being mindful of state and national core standards.

kids creating art at an art room tableSpringsteen made a big impact during her semester of student teaching at Pine Ridge Elementary by nurturing students’ creativity through a personal approach and rich, multifaceted lesson plans (image courtesy of Grace Springsteen)

“The big thing is the 3 Rs: rigor, relevance, relationships,” she says. “If you have a fluff lesson, students will know it and disengage. It’s the same if you are short with them or don’t care to get to know them individually. You also have to make your lessons connect to things that they care about–that’s how students make meaning, and that’s how you get the experience to stick after art class is over.”

During her semester of student teaching at Pine Ridge Elementary, Springsteen noticed that her 2nd graders were having problems with bullying and badmouthing each other. So, she developed a lesson plan that blended learning about warm and cool colors through weaving with an exploration of how and why the words we use to describe ourselves and each other are important.

A child's art projectWeavings created by Springsteen’s students at Pine Ridge Elementary explored warm and cool colors while prompting meaningful engagement with math, language, and the importance of empathy (image courtesy of Grace Springsteen) 

“I decided I would write out all these slips with compliments on them and hand them out. Students could either keep them for themselves, or they could give it to someone who they felt deserved it or needed it, and all of a sudden there was this whole powerful exchange and they were getting it,” Springsteen recalls. “At the same time, I had them using rulers and measuring out their weavings, they were learning art standards, math standards, and the power of empathy too.”

Another lesson gave 3rd graders the chance to create a comic strip around the idea of perseverance.

“We talked about laying out the panels, looked at different comics and saw what was successful and what wasn’t, talked about fractions and geometry, learned what the word ‘perseverance’ meant, and then use colored pencils and considered things like shading and line weight,” Springsteen says. “They’re getting art, but they’re also getting design and language arts; that’s what KCAD’s Art Education program is all about.”

A young girl creating a comic strip in an art classOne of Springsteen’s students at Pine Ridge Elementary works on a comic strip about perseverance (image courtesy of Grace Springsteen) 

Getting the most out of her placements also meant learning from her mentors. At Allendale High School, Springsteen picked up on cooperating teacher Erin Overmeyer’s ability to communicate openly with her class. At Rockford High School, she had another shining example in Cyndi Len, who further solidified the importance of building solid relationships with students based on trust.

“It was all about making students comfortable,” says Springsteen. “[Len’s] philosophy was to connect with them and help them flourish.”

At Pine Ridge Elementary, Springsteen responded well to her increasing responsibility, leading the class for 6 weeks after observing cooperating teacher Tim Donohoe.

“Grace was always willing to go the extra mile, to come early and stay late, and she understands that teaching is about relationships, getting to know the kids personally, adapting lesson plans to individual needs and giving socialized help when needed,” says Donohoe. “I very much felt she was a colleague.”

Springsteen says her mentors empowered her to take risks and learn from her failures, and that’s helped her grow immensely. They also helped her understand that her desire to teach was never really about her at all.

“I used to think that I would change my students, that me being a great teacher would make them great too,” she recalls. “Now that I am teaching, I understand that it’s about asking ‘what do I need to do so they can succeed?’”

Outside of the classroom, Springsteen’s involvement in the KCAD Art Education Student Association State Council connected her to the pulse of art education on a state and national level, as she ended up serving as the organization’s representative to the Michigan Art Education Association, attending conferences and growing her network.

“I got to meet leadership and all of these art teachers in Michigan who are pushing for change and getting involved,” she says. “To have that same opportunity myself is a great feeling.”

After graduating in December of 2017, Springsteen has continued teaching at Pine Ridge Elementary as a substitute, and also works as an exhibitions coordinator for Saugatuck Center for the Arts, all while searching for a full-time teaching position. She’s ready to make an impact, and believes that her recognition by the NAEA is just one of the reasons why there will be plenty more Art Education graduates following in her footsteps.

“It’s a national-level spotlight on the KCAD Art Education program as exemplary, so I doubt I’ll be the last one from the program to win this award,” she says. “We all can be change agents.”

For Dr. Todd and the rest of the Art Education faculty, the award is fuel for the future, and a reminder that actions always speak louder than words.

“We say we’re great, but when other people recognize what’s happening with our students and the things we do in the program, it’s further validation that what we’re doing here is good, progressive, and on-target,” she says. “It’s very exciting.”  

Learn more about KCAD's Art Education program