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Eva art program changing next year

Andrea Williamson

Hartselle Enquirer

The art programs in the Morgan County School system are undergoing some major changes for the 2015-2016 school year, and at the center of one of the biggest changes is Eva School’s art teacher.

Dennis Brickell, a 20-year member of Eva’s faculty, will be dividing each day between Falkville and Eva Schools beginning in August. While this change will allow Falkville High School to continue its art classes, it will force Eva to reduce its art program. Eva was formerly the only Morgan County school to have a full-time art teacher.  With this change, however, only the junior high students at Eva will receive art classes.

According to Brickell, reducing Eva’s art program to part-time was suggested last year, but this year the change was unavoidable. Brickell said that he met with Superintendent Bill Hopkins, and it helped him to better understand the reasons behind the change.

“I talked to Mr. Hopkins and was able to get a clearer picture of his vision,” Brickell said. “We were just reaccredited through SACS, but one of the comments on our evaluation was that our county needs more equality in the programs offered at our schools. Mr. Hopkins has a county-wide perspective, and he has a long-term plan to put a full-time art program in every Morgan County high school and eventually into every school.”

The first step in this plan is to make sure each high school has an art program. According to Brickell, the largest high school in the Morgan County system, Brewer High School, needs a full-time art teacher to meet the needs of its students. Thus, Falkville’s former art teacher, Lisa King, will be moving to Brewer in the fall. Another art teacher will be splitting his or her time between Danville and West Morgan high schools, and Brickell will cover Falkville and Eva. Although this change may help with equality, it still comes at a cost to the Eva community.

“When I came here 20 years ago, I honestly thought we would have a full-time program in every school by this time,” Brickell said. “The Eva students cannot have more privileges than other schools, but I am devastated for this school. It is disappointing that we have to cut back in order to get art into the other schools. I hope we can one day return this to a full-time program.”

Brickell is certainly not the only person to be disappointed. Brickell said that he and other staff at the school have received numerous messages, letters and phone calls from parents asking how they can keep the art program. The community has spent many years building their program, and they are disappointed to lose it.

The program began in the early 1990s when former principal Sheila Burt and other community members decided to pursue an art program. They applied for a grant through the Alabama State Council on the Arts and received partial funding. Brickell, who had spent the first part of his career as an artist but had turned to art education as a way to spend time with his family, was certified through the State Council of the Arts to work as an artist-in-residence at schools. Although he was initially passed over for the job at Eva, he was hired in 1994.

The grant was renewed each year for four years. Brickell said the extensive support of the community was one of the factors that allowed the grant to be renewed. After the five years were over, Brickell was able to use experience and college degree to earn a teaching certificate and become a full-time employee.

Through his years at Eva, Brickell said he has seen several improvements in the students, both in their academics and in their character.

“Our standardized test scores were the highest in the county last year, and I think this is somewhat due to the art education,” he said. “The students have also improved in their critical thinking skills. Our Leader in Me program tries to teach kids to make decisions when there is not a clear right or wrong answer, and art helps kids to make these abstract decisions.”

With so much investment in the program, Brickell said he turned down several other job offers in order to be able to stay at Eva part time. Since high schools are taking precedence over primary schools, he feared that the program would die altogether if he did not choose to stay.

“It has taken a long time to build this,” Brickell said. “The community has put so much in, and I am dedicated to them. This is where my heart is.”

Brickell also had practical reasons for staying at Eva, though. He said the driving distance between Falkville and Eva, although it will be difficult, is much more feasible than driving to other Morgan County schools. Moreover, he said the close distance between schools will allow him to share certain resources.

“Mr. Estes and Mr. Lang (Eva and Falkville’s principals, respectively) have a good relationship,” he said. “Mr. Estes has been supportive of this situation and is going to allow me to use some of my equipment from Eva to supplement my resources at Falkville.”

Acquiring resources is one of the many challenges that Brickell will face as he goes to Falkville. He said that it has taken 20 years to gather the resources at Eva using grant money; community organizations, such as the Eva Art Guild; and parent donations, and he will have to start over to find these resources for Falkville. Another challenge, though, is the infrastructure.

“My biggest concern is being ready for school to start,” Brickell said. “Falkville High School is currently under construction, so I will have lots of work to do later in the summer.”

Despite these and other challenges, Brickell is determined to help Falkville’s program blossom and wants to continue making a difference.

“It is my goal to utilize whatever resources I can find,” he said. “We want to expand and grow the program like we’ve done here (at Eva). I feel like this is the place where I can have the most impact with what is left of my teaching career, and I am ready to get started.”

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