Creating art one step at the time

Art mentor class still supports special needs students even during pandemic


Andrew Staggenborg, Reporter

Madeline Hoffmeyer using her art mentor skills to help her brother Andrew Hoffmeyer during the  “Lets Create Together” class. Photo by Madeline Hoffmeyer


During COVID-19  in the second quarter of the Fall 2020 semester, some students started the class “Let’s Create Together/ Art Mentor. ”. This class is an opportunity for general education students and special education students to develop connections with each other. 


 Cara Deffenbaugh has taught general and special needs students for 5 years. She shared her experience and what motivates her to teach this class. She started teaching “Let’s Create Together / Art Mentor” because both general and special education students were being enrolled in the same class. Parkway Central is the only Parkway high school with this class and Deffenbaugh was drawn to teach it.


“ I teach this class because  I was getting students who were not general education students (special education students) and there were a lot of good things happening in these classes,” said Deffenbaugh “So I wanted to create this mentor class which paired general education  students with special education students and they make art with each other. So it’s  a project that is geared for both general education and special education students to have success.” 

During COVID-19, students had some difficulties but that didn’t stop them from learning and teaching something new and being in touch with each other. Special education students have different types of needs so Deffenbaugh and the mentors are finding a way to help them. Deffenbaugh acknowledges that the distance learning format of this class has created some challenges.


“The name of this class is ‘Let’s Create Together’ and when you can’t be together that’s really challenging. For example, if they are using cool colors, say ‘Oh wait a minute, let’s talk about that. Red is not a cool color, maybe we should do this.’  So just that interaction of being able to physically be right here, with them in the space, that is what is the most challenging,” Deffenbaugh said “Because there are other classes on video that are ‘OK’. I mean it’s not great but it’s ‘OK’. It’s doable. We got a big challenge of not being able to be physically next to our students. I think we are adapting well, but the nature of the class is ‘be together.’” 


For mentor students there  are the variety of reasons that they enroll in this class. Vicki Brown (12) took this class because she is interested in becoming a special education teacher.  


Madeline Hoffmeyer (12) has different reasons for taking this class.


“I took this class so I can be with my brother, because he is autism and he really likes art,” Hoffmeyer said “I took it last year too, so I thought it would be kind of the perfect fit. Plus we never had the class together, and it’s my senior year, so I wanted to have class with him.”


Brown also finds difficulties with distance learning.


“The most difficult part of the class is not being able to be in person with them and not getting face to face contact with them. If I was able to sit next to them, I feel it would be a lot easier to communicate and form a bond with them,” said Brown.


Deffenbaugh shared what she is focusing on while teaching students in this class.


“My main focus is for everyone to learn about art, different aspects of art,” Deffenbaugh said. “Very close behind would be the relationships that students are creating and forming and those are being created and formed around art. So the art is made first because the relationship can’t be formed, unless we are making the art. But the relationships that have been made and fostered with the mentors and buddies are so important.”


Assistant teacher Carrie Knudten talks about her focus when she teaches through  distance learning.


“I’m making sure that students are staying on task. If they need assistance whether it be be reminding them to use their device, their talking machine or to participate. I’m just basically there to keep them on track,” said Knudten


Deffenbaugh and Knudten gave their advice for mentors so other students who will take this class will help them to be successful in this class.


Deffenbaugh’s main advice is to “step back and slow down.”


“Where we are on our cell phone or a computer that works at lighting speed. So we are ‘moving, moving, moving’. And that’s not a way that our buddies are moving” said Deffenbaugh “Our buddies move at a completely different pace than that. So stepping back, slowing down, and I have to keep reminding myself that too. And really just moving at a slow pace and realizing that our buddies are very  capable of everything that we are asking them to do, it’s just they move at a different pace then we do.” 


Knudten has her own advice for mentors.


“The patience is willing to try new things, breaking things down in a few steps, and being positive,” said Knudten.


Deffenbaugh is looking forward to getting back in school and being with students together.


“I’m looking forward to working with mentors to see how we can make this even better,” Deffenbaugh said. “Having our special education students respond in different ways. In class in general, I’m just looking forward to having this class in a form that it  originally started in, together being in a classroom. But truthfully I’ve learned a lot from doing it online and doing it remotely like this. I think there are some things that we will be able to use once we get back into the classroom. I’m looking forward to it.”


Mrs. Deffenbaugh is giving instruction to the student in the class. Photo by Christine Stricker