By Jaci Schneider, Copy Editor
About 20 fifth graders stand silently in their classroom, gathered around an artist as he demonstrates how to sketch one girl’s eyes. The students have already spent the morning learning to sketch cartoon characters, including Garfield and Snoopy, but they are not bored or restless with the activities.
This is as calm as the class has ever been, said their teacher, Sharissa Entrichel.
Donovan Sparkawk, a local artist, is in the classroom with Beverly Kimbrough, a volunteer outreach docent for the Grace Museum. Kimbrough visits classrooms each month to teach children about art.
“I have seen them engaged because it is something new they are learning,” Kimbrough said. “But they don’t know they’re learning,”
Kimbrough said when she first enters a classroom, she tells her students three things: Everyone is an artist; we’re all going to learn something; and we’re going to have fun.
Kimbrough isn’t an art teacher. She never taught in a classroom before three years ago. The most art education she had was a summer course at an art museum in Dallas when she was 12 years old. But now, the retired banker, learns about art and teaches students throughout Abilene as part of the Grace Museum art outreach program.
The Grace Museum began the art outreach program in 2004, according to the museum’s Web site, and since it began, about 450 children have participated in the program. Kimbrough was one of the first to become an outreach docent, and she said she loves being in the classroom with the students, and she loves showing students their potentials as artists.
“It lets the children know there are possibilities for them,” Kimbrough said. “There are opportunities for them.”
Although docents visit classrooms of different elementary grades, Kimbrough said she particularly enjoys the fifth graders because they’re on the brink of junior high education.
“They’re thinking about electives, and when they have an art docent come and expose them to artistic teaching, they can see possibilities,” Kimbrough said. “You start to empower them; you get them to look at themselves and see the possibilities-fifth grade is just great.”
The Grace only has enough funding to visit Title I schools, which are often schools that have had art programs cut from the curriculum because of funding. Entrichel said her students only have an art teacher for six weeks out of the year.
Kimbrough said the outreach docents try to help the classroom teacher by incorporating art into the curriculum. One docent who is good at math uses math in her art projects with students. The docents also provide the teachers with a sometime-needed break from everyday classroom functioning.
“If we just take one day and teach these students in a different way, to give [teachers] a new perspective, or just a break, that’s where we can be a service,” Kimbrough said. “The Grace is giving back to the community.”
At the end of the school year, Entrichel’s 5th graders will take a field trip to the Grace Museum to see and explore the exhibits there.
“The kids don’t get to go downtown very often,” Entrichel said. “So this brings the Grace to them.”
At the museum, a different group of docents will introduce the students to the artwork.
“Art reaches out to all classes, all levels of education,” Kimbrough said. “It’s a great way to express oneself.”
In order to teach children about art, Kimbrough must learn about art herself. As a retired banker, she had little art experience, but the Grace makes sure its volunteers know what they’re talking about when they visit a classroom.
Kathryn Best, the curator of education for the Grace, said the docents receive monthly training. The museum brings in artists whose art will be displayed; art teachers teach them projects and games, and the docents have opportunities to visit museums in Dallas.
“You don’t have to have any art background to be a docent,” Best said. “You just have to like kids.”
Anyone can be docent, they just have to be available a few hours a month and make a commitment to the kids. Many of the docent are retirees, but many work full time; students can even volunteer.
Kimbrough said she enjoys the art lessons she receives from the museum.
“I think it’s an ongoing self discovery,” she said. She’s had lessons in portrait drawing, perspectives, watercolors, printmaking and sculptures.
Although she enjoys learning about art, the real reason she continues to work as a docent is because of the students.
“Once you give, you get back so much more,” she said. “What I am seeing is a blossoming of these children.”