TUCSON, Ariz. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Mosaics and watercolor paintings line the brick walls of Myers-Ganoung Elementary School in Tucson, Ariz. Christa Janzen, a volunteer art teacher, pushes a heavy metal cart loaded with crayons, paints, construction paper, markers and other tools from classroom to classroom.
When the cart enters, Janzen is greeted with clapping and cries of, “Yay! Ms. Art!”
Janzen, a Mennonite Voluntary Service participant from Sonnenberg Mennonite Church in Kidron, Ohio, has spent the last year inspiring creativity in children at Myers-Ganoung. Her teaching also has inspired her to reexamine Christ's lessons on peace and justice.
Several years ago, budget cuts and looming debt led school districts in Tucson to cut music and art programs, leaving teachers to pick up the pieces. At Myers-Ganoung, a diverse school for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade, teachers were forced to build art and music into their busy daily schedules or drop the subjects altogether.
“Unfortunately the first things to go are always music and art, and it was up to us to teach the kids those things,” said Amy Martin, a first grade teacher. “And kids really need time for these subjects. There are so many pressures now to test children and to achieve, but art gives them a chance to express themselves and relieves some of that pressure.”
For the last two years, MVS participants have served at Myers-Ganoung, helping to provide art and music education. Last year, Kimberly Troyer of Shore Mennonite Church
in Shipshewana, Ind. served one year as a music teacher. This year, Janzen teaches art to children in all grades.
Just like a regular teacher, Janzen is responsible for planning age-appropriate lessons on her own. Because a large number of students at Myers-Ganoung speak Spanish, Janzen also took an eight-week refresher course to improve her ability to converse and give directions.
Her time at Myers-Ganoung has instilled a new passion for Jesus’ radical message of peace and service. Encounters with Somali children, whose families came to Tucson as refugees, and seeing the results of poverty played out in her classrooms impressed upon Janzen the importance of just policies and cultural sensitivity.
Through conversations with other teachers and her husband, Scott, who is volunteering with the Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Services program in Tucson, Janzen learned more culturally-sensitive ways to work with refugee children.
And after a visit to Mexico, Janzen encouraged Tucson MVSers to ask their home congregations to buy coffee from a fair trade co-op, Just Coffee, in Mexico.
“Here’s the cool thing that I’ve learned this year. Jesus wasn’t safe. He was a radical,” said Janzen. “He got angry and upset at political systems and how people treated each other and even died trying to change the world.”
Janzen uses art as a way to connect with children of all backgrounds and offer them enjoyable, educational outlets for expression. This year children designed dream homes and created mosaics, pointillism drawings (with inspiration from Georges Seurat) and winter-themed paintings.
To teach young children to identify complimentary colors, Janzen had them create a “complimentary collage” using scraps of construction paper. Only complimentary colors could touch each other within the collage.
When students finish projects, Janzen hangs them in the hall outside their classroom, so that visitors and other students can view them. Kids are proud and excited to see their work on display.
“The highlight of this job is that most kids love art. They just don’t get many hands-on activities during the day and they need art as a break. And I love seeing kids who are proud of what they do. While I was growing up, art was what I could do best and giving that to the kids is really rewarding,” said Janzen.
Janzen, who graduated from Bethel College
with an education major, saw this placement as an opportunity to gain practical experience on the job. And teachers at Myers-Ganoung have helped to mentor her. They suggest ways to keep a class under control and provide helpful suggestions to improve lessons.
“At first, I wanted the position because I wanted practice and I thought it would look good on a resume,” she said. “But what I’ve learned is that I love working with kids and seeing them make huge progress with their behavior and their art. And within the first week of being here I knew I would love to do elementary art long-term.”
Mennonite Voluntary Service, one of Mission Network’s Christian Service programs, invites adults of all ages and backgrounds to spend a one or two year term living in community and serving in a variety of locations across the United States. For more information or to apply online visit Service.MennoniteMission.net.