Whidbey artist teaching lessons to kids via Zoom

As the pandemic drags on and people become increasingly accustomed to the use of Zoom, a South Whidbey artist has been using it to teach her classes online to children.

Visual multimedia artist Melissa Koch has been partnering with the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District and the Whidbey Island Arts Council to provide lessons for kids all across the island, from Oak Harbor to Clinton. Zoom is a videoconferencing application that allows her to interact with the students online.

She has been teaching mixed media classes with the Whidbey Island Arts Council and has upcoming classes in May. These classes, provided to 14 children, have been free of charge for low-income families in Oak Harbor and Coupeville.

Her workshops for the parks and rec district are entering their fifth week, and parents can still sign up their kids for the next two weeks of lessons.

Koch said she has consistently had around six kids attend her workshops, which run 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

With years as an art educator under her belt, Koch has been tackling the challenge of teaching virtually. Many of her in-person art classes had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, prompting the transition to teaching online for children.

“Zoom is actually a really great platform for running art classes,” she said. “I have lots of mothers getting involved.”

Each week has focused on a different subject. Kids have created collages, learned about the artwork of the Haida Nation, a coastal tribe, by making button blankets and etched out textured drawings known as relief work.

For the past week, they crafted trading cards, miniature artworks built out of compositions of color and shapes by using stencils. They can contain short poems or messages and be sent to friends or family members.

“I thought that could be really sweet,” Koch said. “These mini artworks are postcard size and they can be sent as postcards.”

Koch’s daughter, Alice Springs, started helping with instruction this past week, Zooming in from Mexico where she currently lives while on an artist residency.

For the next two weeks, Koch will be continuing to teach workshops for the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District by teaming up with Springs.

Springs is a jewelry designer who also does graphic design. She said she has been part of her mother’s work her whole life, helping her to complete mural projects when she was younger.

Although she taught with Koch in Seattle before, the current Zoom lessons are helping Springs to gain the confidence to start teaching independently.

“Melissa’s such a multi-talented artist,” Springs said. “She’s got such a rich background in all these different types of art that she’s been experimenting with for the past 50 years.”

She has observed art as being a healing activity for the kids during these anxiety-ridden times. Springs appreciates how her mother has kept a balance of inspiring the kids without influencing them too much, and also talks to the kids without babying them.

Charley Atteberry has been taking Koch’s classes for the past four weeks. The seven-year-old reported that one of her favorite things about the workshops has been working with the recycled materials Koch provides. She enjoyed making mini figures out of pipe cleaners and tin foil.

“She’s just really nice, and I also really like her because when I was in preschool, she was my art teacher,” Charley said about Koch.

Her father Michael added that during the last workshop of the week, tech-savvy grandparents have been invited to Zoom into the lessons and see their grandchildren’s artwork.

The artistic mother-daughter duo plan to teach about the arts of Mexico during the next two weeks.

For the first of the two weeks of lessons, Koch and Springs will cover the art of cutting paper into imagery to tell stories, used in Mexico during Day of the Dead celebrations.

“I love working with paper because it’s really temporal, and it’s just a really beautiful material to work with,” Koch said.

Under Springs’ instruction, kids will complete punch embroidery during the second week, using a mini loom to weave.

Kids can still be registered for these two weeks of courses.

To register a kid, email programs@whidbey.com. The registration fee is $80 for each week and covers the cost of materials. Scholarships are available and are need-based.

Koch has been making to-go kits that can be picked up at a South Whidbey location before the classes start.

She said it’s possible she may teach more classes with the parks and rec district after the next two weeks, depending on direction from the governor.

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