Life as Learning: Diverse Experiences Bring Art Education Student National Recognition
The Art Education program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) prepares its graduates not just to succeed as teachers within existing education systems, but to be leaders who can shape those systems for the better.
One of those soon-to-be leaders is senior Maggie Livengood, who was recently named the 2017 recipient of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) National Preservice Art Educator Award at the NAEA National Convention in New York City. The award recognizes excellence in student achievement in art education at the college/university level, but Livengood sees the accolade in more of a collaborative light.
“I’m incredibly honored to receive this award,” says Livengood. “It affirms the work I’m doing and it’s wonderful to feel appreciated, but more importantly it brings recognition to the Art Education program. I wholeheartedly stand behind the amazing work our faculty do here. They give us the tools and language we need to help improve art education in the K-12 system and beyond.”
Livengood (left) and Dr. Cindy Todd (right) at the NAEA National Convention in New York City (credit: Susan Livengood)
Professor and Art Education Program Chair Dr. Cindy Todd feels that Livengood embodies everything the program strives to instill in its students. “Maggie balances rigor and relevance with kindness and fairness,” says Dr. Todd. “She has a tireless work ethic and a passion for teaching. She is the kind of teacher I would have loved for my own children.”
In the Art Education program, an emphasis on curriculum design driven by cutting edge brain research is channeled into field placement experiences that expose KCAD students to a wide variety of educational environments, learning styles, and classroom situations. As they navigate different and diverse challenges in real-world settings, the KCAD students leverage their knowledge of cognitive function to pursue new and innovative ways to engage their own students on an individual level.
Students’ first field experience comes in the form of a 40-hour placement, followed by an 80-hour placement and eventually, a year-long student teaching assignment. Throughout, they must work at different grade levels and in different districts with different student populations and unique needs. In Livengood’s case, she taught 4th and 5th graders at Thornapple Kellogg Elementary School before moving to a markedly different environment teaching 2nd graders at Coit Creative Arts Academy.
“Both schools have incredibly strong art programs with support from administrators, parents, and the community, but I found they had had wildly different student bodies in terms of accommodation and engagement levels,” Livengood says. “The classroom management aspects were very different.”
At Thornapple Kellogg, Livengood encountered students whose socio-economic status ensured that creative engagement had been a constant in their life, both at home and in school. Many of the students at Coit Creative Arts Academy, on the other hand, come from families that couldn’t afford art supplies or extracurricular activities, which meant that they came to their school art classes with less experience using creative tools and processes. Despite their differences, Livengood found that both groups of students valued opportunities for artist expression equally; they just needed those opportunities to be framed in ways that engaged them on an individual level.
“I’m very fortunate that my placements were so different, because they presented me with different challenges and opportunities,” she says. “My experiences really opened my eyes to the importance of addressing issues stemming from circumstances outside of the classroom in the classroom. We need to find a way as educators to create environments that enable transformative learning experiences for each and every student.”
At Coit, Livengood was under the guidance of Karen Brady, a 1991 graduate of KCAD’s Graphic Design program who returned to earn her Art Education Certificate in 2009. Brady employs the same 4-tiered lesson plan format in her classroom that remains a core part of the program’s curriculum.
"The quality education and training Maggie received at KCAD had a direct impact on her student teaching at Coit Creative Arts Academy. She was well prepared for delivering successful and engaging four-tiered lessons rich with rigor and creative problems to solve,” says Brady. “Maggie’s passion for educating students about art and creating lessons that were exciting for them was very evident. As she continues to grow as an art teacher, she will go on to achieve great things in her professional future.”
For Livengood, executing the 4-tiered lesson plan in a real-world setting reinforced her belief in the unique value art education provides.
“In the Art Education program, we learn to create lesson plans that meet the standards and benchmarks from both whatever discipline the lesson is focused on as well as another discipline that we can make meaningful connections to. We also make sure the material provides multi-stimuli engagement and is flexible enough to account for students’ individual preferences,” Livengood says. “Art provides opportunities for creative problem solving, which leads to innovation. That’s one of the area where traditional education has failed so many students, because it’s too focused on rote memorization; it doesn’t give you those opportunities to think for yourself and to think critically.”
For her full student teaching placement, Livengood will spend the 2017-2018 academic year at East Kentwood High School in Kentwood, Mich. She’s looking forward to working with older students and continuing to grow her ability to foster engaging art education experiences and her understanding of the link between creativity and education innovation.
“I’m incredibly excited about getting placed at East Kentwood; they have a wonderfully diverse student population there,” says Livengood. “The school emphasizes international awareness, cultural diversity, and social justice, and those are all things that are very important to me.”
Outside of her teaching placements, Livengood has also plugged herself into larger conversations concerning the importance of art education. After previously serving as the President of the KCAD Art Education Student Association (KAESA), Livengood has since transitioned into a role as the organization’s representative to the Michigan Art Education Association (MAEA). She connects her fellow KCAD students to MAEA opportunities while networking with other art educators and students from around the state.
“All of my experiences and motivation to keep moving forward have come from getting involved and building partnerships,” she says. “Being involved with the MAEA allows me to get outside of my own experiences and stay involved in the big picture of my field. Having a group of students and friends and collaborators who I can exchange lesson plans with, talk to about my plans for the classroom or the community, or about what I want to do professionally now and in the future, has been very important to me.”
During her time in the Art Education program, Livengood’s voracious appetite for experience has also lead her to pursue a number of internship and volunteer opportunities. As an intern at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), she helped implement an animal-themed session of Language Artists, the museum’s nationally-recognized arts and literacy program for third graders, even working after the fact to collect and analyze data on participants’ development of critical thinking, collaboration, and multimedia communication skills.
“That data was incredibly affirming to see, because it backed up what we’re being taught at KCAD: art education that engages all areas of the brain can improve development in a wide variety of areas,” she says.
At GRAM, Livengood also wrote the curriculum for the museum’s 2015 ArtPrize Education Days programming, as well as led sessions and curated an exhibition of participants’ work. This past summer, she designed and implemented the curriculum for a GRAM summer camp where middle school students used the design thinking process to re-imagine the look, feel, and functionality of school furniture.
In the summer of 2015, Livengood volunteered as an instructor in Saugatuck Center for the Arts’ Growing Young Artists program, which provides children of migrant workers with opportunities for creative engagement. Working with KCAD alumni Megan Armstrong (’16, BFA Art Education) and Salvador Jiménez (’14, MFA), she helped develop and run a curriculum that incorporated fractions and color theory into a mask-making project that encouraged participants to express their personal identity through art.
“I try to incorporate as much hands-on activity as possible,” Livengood says of her curriculum design efforts. “A lot of kids are physical learners; they need to touch it and feel it and play around with it themselves. That’s important for context as well as for the creative act.”
As Livengood prepares to graduate this spring and transition into the field, so does so with a thirst for lifelong learning that will serve her well wherever her career takes her. And while the recognition from the NAEA isn’t likely to be the last to come her way, she remains focused on a much larger goal than individual achievement.
“The work that I do and my level of investment, it’s not for awards or recognition; I do it because I love it, and because I think it’s important,” she says. “Art saved my own life multiple times, and I believe it has the power to help others as well.”