When Bringing Art to Schools Director Penny Fairfield arrives at the Bijou Community School to collect students' artwork, she's often greeted by the an enthusiastic refrain.
"'The art lady is here! The art lady is here!' The kids get so excited," Fairfield said.
Fairfield is one of many art ladies who pick up art at the schools for display or teach in a classroom. More than 100 volunteers work with BATS, an art appreciation and history program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
The goal is to bring art to the five South Shore elementary schools that don't otherwise offer official art classes. When the program started in 2001, it was meant to fill a void in the district caused by budget cuts that had eliminated art teachers at the elementary school level, Fairfield said.
Darlynn Babb-Sharpe founded the first structured art curriculum more than 10 years ago. She designed the Elementary Arts Program, which met the California state standards for arts education, so that trained volunteers could present it at the schools.
With Fairfield at the helm, the program maintained the same basic structure. It operates under a different name and beneath the auspices of the Boys and Girls Club of Lake Tahoe, but BATS still engages volunteers to bring art lessons to the classrooms. Few of those volunteers have any artistic background before joining the group, Fairfield said.
An art class at her alma mater, South Tahoe High School, comprised the total art knowledge of BATS lead volunteer and classroom presenter Amber Salmon, but that didn't prevent her from serving in the program. The teaching program is already laid out for each of the volunteers and offers a way to connect with students during the school day, Salmon said.
"I needed something to be involved with my kids. I was looking for something that would inspire me. I think it's a great program that's absolutely critical. I've heard from high school teachers that they have kids who have real art knowledge that they got from elementary school," she said.
For Mollie Hurt, a BATS volunteer and mother of two children at Bijou, the program gets adults into schools who might otherwise not have stepped into a classroom in decades and builds a sense of community.
And her 8-year-old and 10-year-old love having art classes at school, even if the sessions only take place five times a year.
"They can express themselves like they can't on a math worksheet. They're encouraged. They're asked what they want to do. And there's a final product," Hurt said.
Hurt and Fairfield hung an array of those final products on Wednesday at the South Lake Tahoe branch of the El Dorado County Library. Circus horses pranced on the teal wall and flowers made from tissue paper lined several of the pieces, all of which were made by Bijou students and will be displayed until December. At that time the 35 works will be replaced by art from students at another elementary school in the basin, Fairfield said.
Diana Lozano, the library's early childhood literacy specialist, admired the art hanging on the wall on Wednesday.
"It shows a sense of community to show their art in a place outside of the school," Lozano said.
Anything that gets the children to the library is a good thing, and the students are just thrilled to see their work displayed publicly, Fairfield said.