Serving art with sides of science, math

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NW0421 City Teacher of the Year Harris B

Art posters adorn the walls and colorful art supplies are lined up in neat rows waiting for Harold McCormick Elementary students to put them to use.

Walking into art teacher Julie Harris’ classroom feels like entering a creative sanctuary, and that is the atmosphere the school’s Teacher of the Year for grades 5-8 and specialty areas wants to achieve.

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“I love watching the kids get excited about art,” Harris said. “I love watching them get into the creative process. It is fun to watch them learn how to express themselves and to know that they can create their own art.”

Harris has been an art teacher for 13 years, spending the last six at Harold McCormick. Prior to that she taught in Kingsport and Nashville. Over those 13 years, Harris has taught every grade level from kindergarten through high school.

“I’ve always loved art,” Harris said. “It is something that I have always been interested in, and I love working with children. Teaching art is a good way to expose them to different ideas. It is open-ended and creative and they can have fun while they are doing it.”

During her art lessons, Harris likes to “sneak in” topics from the more traditional classroom subjects, like science, math and language arts.

For example, for math Harris incorporates math concepts like perspective, geometry, shapes and optical illusion art. For science, students can observe how oil paint interacts with water or study the different layers of the color spectrum. Language arts makes its way into the art classroom when students write about what they see in an artwork or make up their own story about what is happening in a painting.

“I hope they appreciate art when they leave my class,” she said. “They don’t have to like it, but I want them to appreciate it. I want them to learn to support each other and make the connections from what they have learned in class to things that happen in real life.”

Harris grew up in Carter County, and attended Keenburg Elementary before going to T.A. Dugger Junior High School and Elizabethton High School. She attended college at Freed-Hardeman University near Memphis. After graduation she accepted the position in Nashville and then Kingsport before returning back to her home.

“This is where I have always wanted to be,” Harris said. “I think about it all the time, how did I get so lucky to get this job? I get to do what I love every single day.

Harris’ colleagues at Harold McCormick nominated her for the Teacher of the Year award. Harris is a repeat winner, having been named teacher of the year for before in 2012.

“It made me feel honored that it was voted on by all the faculty here,” Harris said. “They all work very hard and are all deserving of it. It was very humbling.

Harris’ students agree with the decision to name their teacher Teacher of the Year.

“I like art more now that she is my teacher,” Taleah Stewart said. “She makes it fun. We do all kinds of things. We get to draw and we have free time to make what we want.”

Karie Merritt appreciates that Harris takes the time to really explain the projects the students work on.

“She’s really nice and she loves kids,” Merritt said. “She makes sure everything is explained so we know what we are supposed to do.”

For Krisalyn Elliott, the different projects that are completed in class are definitely a highlight.

“Ms. Harris is so creative,” Elliott said. “We made a picture and used tissues to smear it. It looks so cool.”