Homeschool Art Class Finds a Home at MONA

Feb. 10, 2017, 6:45 a.m. ·

Home school students observe an art installation at MONA in Kearney, Nebraska. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

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There are more than 8,000 home-schooled students in Nebraska, and it’s mostly up to their parents to decide what they study. Most get the basics, but it sometimes takes a little more effort to find engaging curriculum related to the fine arts.

That’s where the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney has stepped-in. Once a month, MONA becomes one big classroom for home-schoolers interested in art.

On an upper floor of the museum, director of education Jackie Abell sits next to dozens of life-sized, wax squirrels. They’re scattered all over the floor and up the wall.

It’s an army of rodents.

Around her are seven home school students, including Eleanor Hajda, 16, and her two sisters who come here once a month from their home about an hour away in Broken Bow. They’re home-schooled by their mom, Lisa Hajda.

MONA has offered art classes for home-schoolers for about eight years and Abell, who plans the monthly classes, thinks they encourage hands-on, critical thinking.

Museum of Nebraska Art (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

“We always begin by using one of the works that we have in the collection, something that’s on display, and we discuss that artwork and the children interpret it,” Abell said. “So by doing that, they’re using their critical thinking skills. They’re figuring something out. They’re hearing different points of view.”

The students move to the museum’s basement and into a room with big pieces of white drawing paper on the floor.

This is where Abell has prepared the day’s project, an exercise that uses different forms of charcoal to draw, you guessed it, squirrels.

The students pick a spot and get to work. Abell turns out the lights and the students use lamps to illuminate the charcoal.

Eleanor Hajda is one of the older students in the class. She’s in 10th grade and says learning to appreciate and interpret art is an important part of her home school curriculum.

“I just think any appreciation for art is good and I thank my parents that I can have this opportunity to go and learn all these techniques and do fun things because I think as I grow into an adult and I am home-schooling my kids, I want them to have that appreciation too,” Hajda said.

Home school students draw squirrels at MONA art class. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Lisa Hajda is busy most weeks, taking her kids to other arts and music related activities in Kearney. She’s found plenty of resources for home-schooled children.

“I mean, the kids have access to really experienced and qualified instructors in all areas of the arts, so it hasn’t been too difficult in Kearney. But we do drive,” Lisa Hajda said. “We actually haven’t had a difficult finding really high-quality instructors for them in these areas of enrichment.”

Parents who home-school their children in Nebraska have a lot of latitude when it comes to what they can teach. The state does require instruction in some core subjects, like math and science, but does not mandate how those materials are taught or the curriculum that’s used. And the state has no say over elective classes, like fine arts. Those are completely up to the parents.

Debbie DeFrain is a fine arts education specialist for the Department of Education. She works with public schools across the state on fine arts curriculum, but also provides resources to statewide museums, like MONA and the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, which has a similar home school program.

MONA education assistant Dana Gharashy and a home school student. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

“There’s so much research that inclusion of fine arts education benefits all sorts of things, from attendance to high school graduation rates, to college degree completion to civic engagement to being more informed citizens and then following on into long-term careers that they might not have had without the fine arts education,” DeFrain said.

At MONA, Dana Ghorashy is smudged with charcoal just like the students. She’s an education assistant at the museum and helps with the home school program.

“I think every child needs to be exposed to art. Even the children who think they can’t draw but a stick figure, because they will find they can draw and then they can paint or they can use clay,” Ghorashy said. “But I think for the home school parents, it’s so nice for them to bring their children and expose them to something other than reading and math and writing and spelling. It’s a creative outlet.”

The MONA classes take place once a month. The Joslyn Art Museum has a 24-week visual arts program for home-schooled students.