Instead of staplers, hole punchers and file organizers, Raquel Roy’s office holds a collection of colorful masks, framed artwork overflowing onto the floor and paint brushes in pen holders.

Her passion for art and teaching extends beyond the 100-square-foot office in Maryville High School and into her classroom: It’s now both in person and online.

“Some people would totally stress at having 17 questions at once, but I thrive off of all of that,” Roy said. “I look forward to my job every single day.”

Art app

MHS art teachers began using an app called Artsonia four years ago for students to submit assignments, and during the pandemic the app has kept students’ work all in one place even though they are not.

The CEO for the company, Jim Meyers, said app usage has decreased by about 30% nationwide since the start of the pandemic. It has been a challenge for schools to prioritize art programs with concerns for safety and access to materials.

By the beginning of March, however, Roy’s classes had 3,890 art submissions for the school year. Only 4% of U.S. classrooms have 3,000 or more, according to Artsonia. Although Roy laughed with a colleague when she found out how much her students had used the app, Meyers credited teachers’ passion and the extra work that coincides with it, especially during a time when art programs are receiving less attention.

Principal Heather Hilton praised Maryville High teachers for keeping all students connected and learning, whether they’re in the classroom, chose online learning during the pandemic or are temporarily off campus because of a quarantine.

Online transition

The Artsonia app allows family members and friends to view submitted artwork online, leave comments and buy merchandise, such as a mug or a T-shirt, with the student’s artwork on it. Roy likes to tease the boys who get embarrassed if their grandparents or parents comment on their work.

Students tease her about Bob Ross. There is a small picture of the TV art instructor in the front of her classroom to which Roy added playful illustrations including horns, angry eyes and a curly mustache. Students will come to class wearing wigs that resemble him, and one student gave her a Bob Ross bobblehead that sits on her desk.

“If you’re a teacher, you’re usually a good storyteller, you want to get your students involved, but sometimes that cannot happen digitally necessarily,” Roy said. “You kind of have to cut all that fluff, which is sad, because I’m sure you lose personality.”

In the beginning of the pandemic, the transition to online learning was difficult for everyone, including her family.

“My own two children were at my house, while I had 150 students I was trying to learn to teach virtually that I had never taught virtually before,” Roy said. “My husband was in one room of our house working, my children were trying to do homeschool, and I was Zooming with my students trying to get them to finish up their art credits.”

Now she’s in the classroom and hosts virtual meetings for students who choose that option or are quarantined. For students who haven’t been learning online for the whole semester, it can be a challenge to keep up with assignments and Zoom meetings.

For art projects, quarantined students have the option to send someone to pick up supplies from the school office or resume their projects when they return to school.

“It’s interesting to watch a class when you see a teacher teaching to people in front of them and recording on Zoom, and teaching to kids who are sitting at home, and trying to find ways to get those in-person learners connected to those digital learners and everybody on the same page,” Hilton said.

Her stress relief

Before Roy became an art teacher, she was an international business major at Carson-Newman University. She started volunteering at an elementary school and took a drawing class in college as a stress reliever.

The professor told Roy she should consider majoring in art, so “I called my parents and said, ‘I’m quitting everything and going to be an art major,’ and they were devastated,” Roy said.

Both her parents were in education, so they suggested she major in art education instead, and she shared their interest in connecting with kids of all ages.

“So that’s where I ended up, adding education to it, and I have not regretted a single year,” Roy said. “This is my 16th year teaching.”

Roy also teaches art education at Carson-Newman to future art teachers, including some who were her students at MHS.

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