With a love for art, a passion for working with special needs students, and a true appreciation for the importance of inclusiveness, Christy Stoddard is excited to be leading the first unified art class coming to the non-profit Guilford Art Center (GAC).
Registration is now open to join Unified Art: Creating Art Together, a GAC class for kids aged 6 to 12 that will partner special needs students with student peers. The new class will meet for four Tuesday sessions beginning Tuesday, Sept. 13 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
“We’re really just looking for children of all abilities who are interested in art,” says Christy. “It’s going to be based on a student’s needs, but it’s also just letting them be creative. I feel like GAC is the perfect place for this class. For me, it’s always been a calming place, where everyone works at their own pace.”
Christy grew up in Guilford and remembers taking classes at GAC as a youth, then working for a time in the GAC gallery store and going on to volunteer at GAC Craft Expos. She returned to take classes as an adult and to enroll her own children, now 7 and 10, in GAC classes.
“I’m very much a mom that wants to immerse my own children in the arts, especially as technology takes over,” says Christy. “It’s such a wonderful place to bring kids. It’s a calm place to come and sit and be creative.”
The concept of unified classes has taken healthy root in this town thanks to the efforts of Guilford Public Schools. In-school offerings such as unified sports, unified theater, and unified art are now a part of the mix, especially at Guilford High School (GHS).
“As a mom, I look for opportunities like this for my own children,” says Christy. “The kids have these little partnerships they create. It’s just a wonderful thing to see. At certain schools, it’s becoming part of the students’ lives. What’s lacking is finding opportunities in the community outside of school. And if you’re not in the schools, you may not be experiencing it at all. If we can take it out to places like GAC, we can help to get it into the community as much as possible.”
GAC Executive Director Maureen Belden was delighted when Christy brought the idea of leading a Unified Art class to GAC.
“The unified model is one that works so beautifully, and is growing in popularity. With the model of all kids working together so well-supported in our schools, GAC is thrilled to be developing a similar program, supporting this type of learning in the community at large,” says Maureen.
Maureen adds Christy is “ideal” to lead the GAC class.
“Christy has a strong background in teaching and—truly important and inspiring—an infectious passion for the unified model of working together,” Maureen says
GAC was the first facility Christy considered when pitching the idea of a leading a community-based unified art class for youngsters.
“It’s been in my heart and in my mind for a long time,” says Christy. “I wanted to mix my passion for art with my passion for working with students with special needs. I talked with Maureen, and she was so encouraging. She picked right up on it and thought it was a wonderful opportunity.”
Christy (née Markham) is a GHS Class of 1997 alumnae who excelled in art, earning awards and even being assigned by her teachers as an art assistant in the classroom. Christy continued studying art in college while also completing a bachelors in rehabilitation sciences. She also became a certified occupational therapy assistant. Christy returned to school to become a special education teacher, earning her master’s in 2013. Currently, Christy is working with students in transition (ages 18 to 21) as a special education teacher with the community-based program STRIVE (Southern Transition Real-World and Independent Vocational Education) in Clinton.
Christy and her husband, Tyson Stoddard, are raising their two boys with an appreciation for participating in unified programs. The boys already enjoy being a part of unified sports teams in Deep River and both will join Christy’s class. Christy plans to have her students partner or team up in small groups to create art projects using a variety of mediums.
The idea of gathering kids of all abilities around art projects creates an atmosphere where creativity is king. Another great aspect of any art class is that “everyone’s going to come out with a different outcome, and I think that’s what so special about it,” says Christy. “That’s why I’ve always been intrigued by art.”
She’s also looking forward to applying her skill set to help every student enjoy their experience, and get the most out of it.
“I love being creative and teaching art, but I think what’s going to be nice about my educational background is I can help to modify each project so it can meet each child’s needs. And for them, I think what’s beautiful about art in particular is that not everything is going to be the same, and that it allows everyone to work at their own pace and ability to be creative.”
For Christy, being able to offer this new class at GAC is “really a dream come true,” she says.
“My two loves of my life are art and helping students with special needs, and that’s what so exciting,” says Christy. “It’s also exciting to be offering this to families that are looking for opportunities like this for their children [who are] outside of the school system, or for after school. I think that this is addressing so many things. It’s neat to be a part of it, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Unified Art: Creating Art Together, with instructor Christy Stoddard, for participants aged 6 to 12, takes place four Tuesdays beginning Sept. 13 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Guilford Art Center (GAC), 411 Church Street, Guilford. Tuition is $48 (GAC members $43.20). Financial aid is available. All classes can be viewed at www.guilfordartcenter.org. Registration can be completed at www.guilfordartcenter.org, by calling GAC at 203-453-5947 or coming to the GAC office. For more information, contact GAC at 203-453-5947 or visit www.guilfordartcenter.org.