Is art oppressed?: Art teachers expose how physical space impacts learning

Last summer, the Loudoun County High school art teachers were told to expect renovations to the art rooms as a way to get more room to teach and create art. However, as of May 23, the art room hasn’t gotten the renovations. Art teacher Stephanie Woshner said, “They were supposed to do renovations over the summer. But, that was put off.” 


That reason being that classrooms in other locations were being cut in half to create additional classrooms, primarily in the English and language hallways. “It’s supposed to happen this summer,” Woshner said. “They’ll rip out the sinks, give me more countertops and cabinets, and that wall becomes student storage.” While the renovations are meant to improve the room’s space, it doesn’t make the room bigger. 


The art department severely needs those renovations as the current rooms aren’t up to the standards of other schools. Heritage High School senior Devan Partangle sent us photos of the art rooms at Heritage, and those photos help illustrate the differences between the resources at our schools. 


The Heritage art department has three rooms, one for teaching and creating, one for storage, and one dark room for photography. The teaching room has plenty of space for desks, storage, and countertop space for students to create. The dark room has space for developing photos and storage. And lastly the storage contains many things like art supplies, art projects, and yarn. These photos show a thriving art community at Heritage to have these luxuries. Our art department fails to compare this.


Our art rooms have a severe lack of space and breathing room for teaching and it impacts our learning environment. “The room can only hold a small number of kids,” Woshner said. “For example, that sink could be replaced with a desk.” 


While Woshner acknowledges that nothing is broken and all the equipment works, she is more concerned about storage and space. “It’s more about the layout and space of the room,” Woshner said. “If you compare the layout and departments at Independence and Lightridge, our whole department can fit into one classroom.” Woshner also complemented the Heritage art department by saying it was better than her college’s art department.


Woshner struggled with tables at the beginning of the year. The art department got rid of their tables due to what they thought would be upcoming renovations. When those renovations were postponed and they had no tables, they had to scrounge around to find tables and found some in the nick of time. “You just don’t know what can happen,” Woshner said. 


Fellow art teacher Kyla Jenkins agrees that lack of space is an issue. “Working in a tiny art room has been extremely frustrating for us,” Jenkins said, noting that there is not enough room to spread out. “We don’t have enough cabinets or flat surfaces in my classroom,” Jenkins said. She showed us how she was able to recycle a desk and turn it into a shelf to store some of the class projects.


“Being able to teach the content we are required to teach, we don’t have the space to,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes we have to adapt spaces that weren’t meant to be used.” 


Jenkins noted that the latest renovation the art department had was in the late 1990s. “What’s mostly frustrating is the lack of space to do things,” said Jenkins. “As a photography teacher, cameras are hard to come by. Film is hard to come by. We have to use a program on Chromebook called FRAME.” FRAME allows students to log on to a virtual machine using their Chromebooks to access high-end software such as Adobe Photoshop. Jenkins described her issues with FRAME as hating how it is missing features because it needs a graphic card and other software does not, and it also requires a mouse.


After last summer’s disappointment, Jenkins was optimistic over hearing that the fine arts was possibly receiving a renovation over the upcoming summer, noting that more students would like to take art than can currently fit. 


Woshner and Jenkins have been forced to teach a sixth class, while the normal contract load is five classes. Soon, the school will need to hire another art teacher. “Where are they going to go?” Woshner asked, noting that additional staff will not solve the problem of a classroom shortage. 


In fact, Woshner noted that the art room is occasionally used as a science room. “We’re limited on space but our numbers keep increasing,” Woshner said. 


“They are not rezoning like they should,” Jenkins said, referring to the long-discussed but not-yet-acted-upon plan to rezone Leesburg students to shift some of the overcrowding away from County. “This is the most over-packed school in Leesburg. Yet, no one is redrawing the boundaries,” Jenkins said. 


Woshner noted that parents continue to request County for their children. “People want their kids to go here!” Woshner said. 


Hannah Winegar contributed to this story.