Iowa City teacher named elementary Art Educator of the Year

Buffy Quintero, recognized by the Art Educators of Iowa, said it’s a strange time to receive the honor, since teaching is a challenge this year.


Buffy Quintero poses for a portrait. Quintero has been teaching in the district for 8years and teachers art classes to elementary school students in both online and hybrid formats. (Contributed)

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

The Iowa City Community School District had plenty of work to do when preparing to move classes to online and hybrid formats. When courses require physical materials to complete the work, that can pose an extra challenge to educators.

Buffy Quintero, a teacher in the district, was named elementary Art Educator of the Year by Art Educators of Iowa in recognition for her work over the summer in developing the online elementary art curriculum.

“I think [for] everyone who worked on the online curriculum, it was kind of a feeling of being a little bit on uneasy ground a little, because it was the first time as a district that we were doing this,” Quintero said.

This year, art supplies are limited. Christian Aanestad, art curriculum coordinator and teacher in the district, said students working in person are limited in the supplies they can share, since materials need to be sanitized and cleaned in between uses.

The district distributed art supplies for online students to take home. The curriculum Quintero created stresses artists being problem solvers and finding innovative ways to create, she said.

“Right now, we’re just working with the basic school supplies which are markers, crayons, scissors, colored pencils, and glue sticks, but there’s a lot you can do with that,” she said.

Quintero said she believes art can play a role in helping students deal with the challenges the pandemic presents them with, whether they are in online or hybrid classes.

“I think it’s something that really helps kids to build their self-esteem; to be able to build something out of nothing; to be able to problem solve; to critically think; and just to know the joy of creating something,” she said.

Art class is also unique from other online classes because students can do their work away from the computer screen, Quintero said.

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Cultural responsiveness is another focus of the curriculum. Quintero has incorporated the work of diverse artists into the class. At the beginning of the year, third and fourth-grade students learned about Alma Woodsey Thomas, a Black painter whose work has hung in the White House and the Smithsonian.

Fourth grade online student Esme Arcenas’ art piece inspired by Alma Woodsey Thomas. (Contributed)

Quintero said students respond well to the vibrant colors in her abstract work. Her fifth and sixth-grade students are learning about Yayoi Kusama, a contemporary Japanese artist.

Those kids will share what brings them joy, tying back to the social and emotional aspect, and use that as the subject of their art, she said. Then they will use patterns around the subject, which are inspired by Kusama, she said.

Aanestad said the art department is in the process of doing a curriculum review, during which educators are reflecting on students’ needs and making changes to meet them.

“Buffy has really played a large role in that,” he said. “We have the strong staff that are willing to change and modify a curriculum so that we’re creating the best program that makes everyone feel comfortable, safe and have a creative outlet where they can see themselves and speak about themselves.”

Professor of Art Education at the University of Northern Iowa Wendy Miller said she nominated Quintero for the award because she was impressed with how involved Quintero was with the Art Educator of Iowa events, and how dedicated she was to growth as a teacher.

When Quintero was putting the online curriculum together over the summer, she reached out to Miller to find resources, Miller said.

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“Some people are really afraid of change, but she just grabs it by the horns and says, ‘We can do this,’” Miller said.

Quintero said she is proud to be nominated by Miller, who she attended graduate school with, and selected by her peers.

She said, however, it’s an odd time to receive a teaching award.

“It’s a very strange time to feel like you’re doing a great job,” she said. “We want to be there for our students, and we want to do a good job, but it’s a very challenging time to be doing a good job.”

Still, Quintero said she is enjoying teaching her online students and has been able to connect with them over Zoom.

“I just am deeply passionate about the importance of public education and the power of the arts,” she said. “I believe that it can really build kids’ self-esteem when they know the joy of creating something from nothing.”