ILLIOPOLIS, -- Like nearly all other school districts in the state, Sangamon Valley is feeling the pinch of shortfalls in funding, so when the art teacher at Illiopolis Elementary School moved on, the position wasn't filled.
Core subjects like reading and math are important, but so is art, said Principal Debby Hawkins.
"We wanted a way to have a better school climate and build a team," Hawkins said. "We noticed that sometimes we were isolating the older kids from the younger kids. We wanted the younger kids to have some role models and the older kids to have a chance to practice their leadership skills."
Once a month, on school improvement days when students are dismissed early, the morning is devoted to art. Students learn about the life of the month's artist -- this month it's Andy Warhol. They learn about that artist's style. Warhol's is pop art, but they've also studied impressionism, baroque and Fauvism. They learn a concept that is basic to that style and that artist, and then they make a creation of their own.
Warhol's work is very much about bright colors, said fifth-grader Mikayla Jackson, which suits her. She hopes to be an artist herself when she grows up.
"I want to write a book and make the illustrations for it," she said. Her brother, she added, creates his own comic books. "We're an arty family."
Some of the past projects have included printmaking for impressionisms and monochromatic paintings to practice baroque, and to celebrate Warhol's style, the youngsters drew pictures of commercial products, made four copies on card stock and colored each copy different complementary colors. Younger students had templates to use, with the help of older students, while the older kids could make their own if they liked.
Lily Livingston, a fifth-grader who likes painting landscapes on her own, said working with the younger students is a good opportunity.
"They want us to be role models," she said.
The idea for making Team Days about art started with Ashley Koniak, who teaches third grade.
"We had already been doing Team Days and we did themes, the holidays or the weather," she said. "We were trying to think of how we could do art and keep our Team Days going. So once a month our kids are learning about art, but they're also learning about artists, and learning about styles and learning about time periods and getting to apply that to their work."