Utah Art Teacher Thinks Outside of the Box

Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

Provo’s Edgemont Elementary School recently announced that art teacher Jeff Cornwall won the Utah Elementary Art Educator of the Year award.

Cornwell has been a teacher at the school for four years and is the only full-time teacher in the art program. Fundraising efforts by the community and parents of students at Edgemont Elementary have made it possible to retain Cornwell as a full-time teacher. Cornwell calls himself an anomaly because most art teachers in the BTS-ALP program are part-time or teach at several schools.

The Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program (BTS-ALP) also partially funds the schools art program, as well as programs for 130 additional schools across Utah.

The objective of the schools art program is to provide arts educators to teach music, visual arts, theater and dance. Cornwell uses his classes as a sort of “art laboratory” in which students utilize classroom concepts through experimentation with a variety of mediums including painting, photography, drawing and performance and video art.

Principal Dennis Pratt spoke of Cornwell’s success, describing him as a fabulous teacher that the kids love. He also remarked on Cornwell’s ability to go above and beyond with his teaching and think outside the box. “Jeff integrates the regular classroom teaching with art,” he stated.

Teachers within the school collaborate together to determine what lessons should be tied in to art and how to incorporate those lessons. Cornwell has explored a variety of subjects within his classes including math, science, health, and social studies.

An example of art used in math through his teachings includes kindergarteners transforming numbers into monsters by adding facial characteristics. Additionally, a fifth grade class used photographs of ancestors to learn about inherited traits by determining if they look like any of their relatives.

Cornwell sums up his teaching style by stating that he teaches children to “learn how to learn.”