On Monday, January 14, more than 30,000 Los Angeles public-school teachers began a strike in the second-largest school district in the country. Teachers were striking for their students’ quality of education, demanding reductions in class sizes, more support staff including librarians and counselors and job protections for teachers. Among their numbers was UT alumna Jade Partain whose commitment to her students was cultivated during her time at The University of Texas at Austin in her Visual Art Studies degree.
“I thought, ‘I have to do this for my kids,’” said Partain. “A lot of the passion I have for my students and public education came from my program at UT Austin. At UT, we would say ‘What Starts Here Changes the World’ and I wanted my students to know that I stand by that.”
Partain teaches art for students in 9th-12th grade at West Adams Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, California as part of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). West Adams lies at the southern end of the Pico-Union neighborhood, a largely Latino and immigrant population in Central Los Angeles. With over 25,000 people per square mile, it is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles. “Most of the adults in this community have a high school diploma or less, therefore, the West Adams Preparatory High School community has worked diligently to promote high school graduation and college preparedness,” according to materials from West Adams Prep. Partain found that many of her students had never taken an art course before and that she would be given the challenge of building her art education curriculum from scratch.
Partain credits her time at UT with giving her the tools necessary to succeed in her first year as a teacher at West Adams. Her skills in vertical sequencing —laying out a curriculum in a way where content progressively builds in difficulty and becomes more exploratory— and scaffolding lessons served her well and helped her students advance with an enriched understanding of each lesson.
The first thing I like to do is really consider: What are the main takeaways I want to give students? So, for this year I have four Big Ideas. And I learned the concept of Big Ideas from the UT program. The categories I chose are: Identity, Meaning-making, Telling Stories and Communicating through Art, including performance; and Community and Activism.
These are course groups that build off of one another during the year as well, but within each category, I’ll divide it into a couple of projects. First one: basic identity unit. So, I started with a painting based on what element they are (i.e., earth, fire, wind, etc.) and we discussed ties to Greek mythology they took a fun personality quiz just to get them started and thinking. Then you build from there. Build a unit where each piece works off the last—what we call scaffolding.
Partain would later introduce a print-making project, using linocut block prints, where her students were asked to develop an alter-ego. As they consider ideas for their own work, Partain has her students look to the work of contemporary artist Adrian Piper and examine the idea of playing with, trying on, and using identities to accomplish different ends.
“And they’ll relate to Adrian Piper and how she struggles with this dual identity of being black and white, and how people stereotype based on what they see,” said Partain. “Most art textbooks are sequenced where you learn elements and principles of design first—line, color, form, value, etc. But I feel it’s so much more motivating and engaging for students when it actually connects to something meaningful in their lives.”
Partain is deeply invested in her students’ lives, because she had teachers who were invested in her. She knows that each person can make a difference and change the world, and now she’s teaching those tools to a new generation -- through both words and actions.