Art Docent Program

Students in action.

Students in action.

The Elementary School Art Docent program, more than 15 years young, is a committee of the PTA. The art docents are parent and community volunteers, some who have been art docents for 8 years. Although NOT required, many of these docents are artists and have visual arts and/or teaching credentials and experience.  All of the docents bring their passion for the arts, teaching and learning in these students’ classrooms. This is clearly evident by the volunteers’ high level of commitment to the program, the students’ enthusiasm for arts experiences, and the artwork students create through art docent led projects/lessons throughout the year.  Due to the cut of a salaried school visual art specialist, the need for art docent program funding and increased volunteer commitment has become even more critical. This art docent program is currently the only visual arts learning that students get in school, outside of what their regular classroom teacher may provide.


Integrated art docent lesson—collaborative/cooperative. Local first peoples/the environment/ value/proportion, this was a 2012 festival exhibit 3rd grade.

Integrated art docent lesson—collaborative/cooperative. Local first peoples/the environment/ value/proportion, this was a 2012 festival exhibit 3rd grade.

Historically, the art docent program has been supported by a traditional, developmentally sequenced art docent curriculum, which embraces arts elements and principles, art history and appreciation. Beginning in October, docents attend orientation and training. They receive these traditional art docent grade-level curriculum binders that provide additional resources to guide their teaching. Each binder has “grade-level” art lessons aligned with prints, including a biography of the artist, information about the art movement (style of art), a list of questions to ask students and suggestions for follow-up art projects.  However, where this older curriculum has limitations, our art docent program is innovative in filling voids. We hope to purchase a more current sequential Visual Arts curriculum, while we continue to develop our more innovative teaching approaches.  Although an art docent program could never replace a school visual art specialist, or the need for dedicated art teacher at this foundation level for learning art, I know the students and teachers here are very fortunate to have support from our arts rich community and its volunteers.


Ravi Neumeyer creating his mask for Chinese New year, Year of the Dragon.  grade k/1

Ravi Neumeyer creating his mask for Chinese New year, Year of the Dragon. grade k/1

An inexperienced docent can easily get started in the classroom, simply by using this traditional curriculum: They lead a class discussion about the selected print and guide the class in an aligned follow-up art project. But with experience and training, the docents can more creative. Our passionate docents collaborate with teachers, artists, and each other to practice research-based teaching approaches and techniques. So the goal is for arts lessons to embrace a more process-oriented and integrative approach. And with the classroom teacher’s support, docents can connect their art projects/concepts to other subject areas that the students are learning (science, social studies, literacy, math, school themes of leadership, math, and to other art disciplines like music, drama,) making these experiences more meaningful as they are presented in a real world context.  Their lessons become more hands-on and project-oriented and often explore the principles and elements of art through their own area of arts passion/expertise. For example, a sculptor may develop a series of clay animal sculpture lessons focusing on techniques in hand-building, while also integrating and aligning these art concepts with grade level standards in other subject areas or art disciplines.  The art appreciation and art history piece is woven in through the use of classic art prints or 3-dimensional works as a springboard for the discussion and the hands-on arts learning and reflection. This highly effective approach addresses and engages all types of learners, while nurturing 21st century learning: visual thinking strategies, imagination, critical thinking, problem solving, and cooperation. Docents work out their schedule and lesson format with the teacher. The docents spend anywhere from 4 -10 hours of instructional time a month in the classroom, with planning and prep time going well beyond that.  There is at least one docent assigned to each classroom for grades K through 5. In classrooms with more than one docent, docents take turns presenting lessons or work together as a team.


In the early spring, the Art Docent program hosts its annual student art fundraiser for the art docent program.  The docents work with students to create artwork that can be reproduced on gift items. The company, Art to Remember works with our PTA to offer attractive and useful gift items, like thermoses, aprons, potholders,  t-shirts, bags, water bottles, mugs, and much more, that families can order with their child’s art image.  This has been a successful fundraiser when planned for holidays such as Mother’s day or Father’s Day.

Touch drawing with Deborah Chapin at the 2012 Festival

Touch drawing with Deborah Chapin at the 2012 Festival

As part of its activities, the Art Docent Program sponsors the annual Whidbey Festival of the Arts, the first weekend in June, at South Whidbey High School. This event is a growing PTA partnership with the Whidbey Island Arts Council and South Whidbey School District, which focuses on celebrating student arts and creating awareness for the need for more arts programming in our South End schools. The two-day public event captures arts as central to life and learning, and how the viability of school art programming, art for ALL students, depends upon community funding and support.  District school art from grades K-12, is showcased throughout the two commons and courtyard of the high school. Community and arts organizations, as well as local businesses, provide sponsorship for the festival, offering food and informational booths. Musical, theatrical, and dance performances by the students run throughout the venue. The docents transform the New Commons into galleries exhibiting art created by EVERY student in the classrooms, Kindergarten through 5th grade.  The New Commons is strictly dedicated to K-5 student artwork and the interactive arts activities that docents, artists, and students have planned. Students and local artist/art teachers host arts demonstrations, while offering the public hands-on opportunities to explore various arts techniques. This is also where the 5th graders, with PTA support, host their 5th grade “Pay it Forward” bake sale. This sale raises awareness and funds for the annual 5th grade art/culture field trip in June. This culminating arts event celebrates the value of community collaboration for student learning through arts. It also serves as a fundraiser for the Whidbey Island Arts Council’s artist in residence program and the PTA’s Volunteer Art Docent Program. All funds raised during this event go to SWEPTA to further enhance Art Docent Program and to other school arts programs.

The Commons (@ SWHS) Friday night over the 2012 Festival.

The Commons (@ SWHS) Friday night over the 2012 Festival.


If you would like more information about the Art Docent Program or would be interested in being an art docent and supporting the June Festival,

Please contact:

Betsy Usher Gmerek

Art Docent Program Chair/Coordinator, Art Docent

(360)  821-9349

Where there is heART, there is ART



Docent’s may have their teachers request use of the art room through Betsy.  The calendar with all current reservations can be found HERE.

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