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What You Should Do with Student Artwork

Art Education and the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Mountains of completed artwork are a daunting task to tackle at the end of the year. However, this mountain becomes exponentially more daunting when you need to sort through, take down, and organize all the artwork for hundreds of students all by yourself.

In a typical end of the year situation, you likely have your students create their own portfolios, help hand back art, and assist with cleaning your art room to prepare for Summer. However, due to COVID-19, we are all in a very different situation. Our end of the year art distribution and room cleaning look much different.

stacked artwork

We also have to remember each school district is handling the rules and guidelines for who is allowed to return to school differently. Some art teachers have already been allowed to come in and prepare for artwork to be sent home, clean their rooms, and gather materials. Maybe you are one of those teachers who have already sent home a bundle of work to your artists. On the flip side, other art teachers have not been allowed into their school since quarantine began. No matter your situation, the artwork still exists. Your student’s hands worked hard to create beautiful and meaningful projects.

So, what do you do with all the artwork?

It seems there are three main options. Luckily, there is no right or wrong option. You’ll need to figure out what works best for you and what is expected of you from your school district. However, there may be some pros and cons to these three options that might help you make your decision.

Option 1: Send home all the artwork.

This option requires you to collect, organize, and hand back all artwork completed throughout the school year. You will likely complete this task alone since there are typically restrictions about how many people can be in one area working together.

empty hallway

What are the pros of sending home all the artwork?

  • Your students get back all their artwork and get to enjoy their hard work.
  • You have a fresh, clean slate to start the next year without entering a classroom full of piles of work.
  • You can send home ideas for students of what they can do with their artwork.
  • Students who move out of your district are more likely to receive their work.

What to do with artwork once it’s home:

  • Create a window gallery for neighbors walking by.
  • Mail artwork to loved ones, especially those who may need a little positivity, or who might be feeling a little isolated.
  • Create a rotating art wall in a student’s bedroom or central space in their living area.
  • Have a digital artist talk with friends and family. Invite the student to host a virtual chat with loved ones explaining and answering questions about their artwork.

sorted artwork on tables

What are the cons of sending home all the artwork?

  • Sorting all this work takes a massive amount of time and energy, leaving you emotionally, mentally, and physically drained.
  • It can be difficult to fit this task into the limited time constraints set by many districts.

2. Keep all artwork at school.

Many art teachers who aren’t allowed back into their schools will choose this option because it is their only option. However, if you do have a choice, you may want to leave all the artwork at school regardless and send a letter home to parents and students explaining your decision.

hallway with artwork

What are the pros of leaving all artwork at school?

  • Artwork will be there to welcome students when they can return to school.
  • Sorting artwork does not take away from the necessary time to clean your classroom.
  • Students feel a sense of normalcy and ownership by returning to a school where their art is still on display.
  • You can work through sorting exhibits slowly when you can return to school, and possibly even have the students help you.

artwork on display in hallway

What are the cons?

  • You will have much more work to do organizing artwork when school is back in session.
  • Students do not get to enjoy their artwork at home and share their accomplishments with loved ones.

Option 3: Send home some of the artwork.

After getting to my classroom and taking a look at the state of my room, this option seemed to work best for me. I decided to take down and send home all 5th-grade artwork since that group of students will be moving on to middle school and not returning to my art room. Any artwork that was already on display in the hallways remained up, to “keep our school hallways warm” while we are away. Artwork that was completed but not on display was sorted and handed back to students.

tables with artwork

What are the pros of sending home some of the artwork?

  • The school feels warm and welcoming with art on the walls.
  • The task of organizing and sorting artwork felt doable. It meant exhibits could stay up on the walls, and only completed artworks needed to be sorted.
  • Using volunteers for future exhibit organization is an option.

artwork shelves

What are the cons of sending home some of the artwork?

  • Students may have wanted one particular piece handed back, and if it was on display, they are out of luck.
  • This option still requires a decent amount of sorting and organization.

The ending of the 2020 school year is unprecedented territory. There is no right answer to all the questions and open-ended feelings we have.

The first time I returned to my art room after being on quarantine for two months, I had lots of logistical questions I didn’t know how to answer. For example, what do I do with all the partially finished projects? There were half-carved butterfly linoleum stamps that had never been printed, and recently begun colorful weavings still tightly secured to a cardboard loom. What about the 5th graders’ ceramic containers that were covered in glaze and loaded in the kiln, ready to be fired?

We have all wondered about these logistical questions and tried our best to answer them. If you are able to work in your classroom a little bit at the end of the year, try turning on some energetic music and enjoying a little time in your happy place. It’s certainly not how any of us expected to end the 2020 school year. All you can do is keep doing the best you can and make the decisions that are right for you.

Have you been allowed to work in your classroom to prepare for summer?

Did you discover any tricks or tips about packing up thousands of pieces of art by yourself?

What benefits do you see from sending home or leaving art at school?

Sarah Krajewski is an elementary art educator in Wisconsin. Her teaching philosophy is mirrored in her classroom mantra: "I am positive. I am creative. I am mindful. I am amazing. I am an artist.”

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