Olivia Shafer hopes to inspire through art education

Olivia Shafer

Sparking joy and wonder: that’s one of the reasons Olivia Shafer decided to become a teacher.

Shafer, a junior studying Visual Arts Education with an ENL license addition, says she believes art in education serves as a powerful tool in empowering students to become problem solvers, risk- takers and creative thinkers.

“Teachers play a critical role in student’s lives, and as an educator, I want to be that person that can serve as a constant source of support and inspires them to be the best version of themselves,” she said.

She’s already inspiring through her work with Camp Kesem, an organization dedicated to supporting children whose parents are fighting cancer. Shafer got involved with Camp Kesem her freshman year. After attending her first meeting and working as a counselor over that summer, she discovered a group of passionate, genuine and inspirational people that would soon become, as she called it, her family. 

I think the art room serves as a safe haven for a lot of students, and I want my classroom to be a place for students to feel like they can express themselves without judgement and find a bit of relaxation in their busy schedules.

Olivia Shafer

“Cancer is a terrible thing, but [Camp Kesem] provides kids a place where they feel supported, loved and can be their ‘camp self, best self.’ After camp, I knew this was an organization that I wanted to pour my heart out into and I was able to serve as one of the Make the Magic coordinators my sophomore year. I was able to plan and host our big fundraising gala that helped raise enough money to send over 200 kids to camp for free,” she said.

Camp Kesem had to be a virtual experience last summer thanks to COVID-19, but Shafer still found ways to bring the magic of camp to those who needed it most. Each day, campers would log on for fun games and camp songs and then had a variety of different activities to log on to throughout the day, such as yoga, friendship bracelet making, watercolor painting, mad libs and cabin chats, where campers and counselors got to hang out and get to know each other. The last day of camp was celebrated with a huge virtual dance party.

“When we were told camp would be virtual, we were all a little worried about how well it would turn out and if our campers would still feel the same love and support that they do at in person camp,” Shafer explained. “However, when on the last day all of our campers were filled with tear not wanting to leave, we knew we had made an impact. Even in the virtual setting we were able to make new friends, hear empowering stories, be silly and make memories.”

Despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought, Shafer says it has forced her to be resourceful and put her creativity to the test. As a student teacher with Saturday Art School, she has had to think outside the box in order to provide students with engaging and exciting lessons that they can do at home with limited supplies: “Because of this, I feel like I have come up with lessons that I would have never thought of before such as making radical relief origami sculptures out of post-it notes.”

When Shafer thinks about her future classroom, she envisions a place where students feel invited to get messy, explore their interests, be inspired and feel safe and accepted.

“I think the art room serves as a safe haven for a lot of students, and I want my classroom to be a place for students to feel like they can express themselves without judgement and find a bit of relaxation in their busy schedules,” she said.

She also plans to draw on her experiences with Camp Kesem, which she credits for making her the person she is today.

“As a teacher, I not only want to embody this best version of myself, but encourage my students to as well. I envision treating my classroom to be a lot like camp in which we are all there to support each other, have fun and find the magic in learning!” Shafer said. “My experience with Camp Kesem has pushed me to be creative and be resilient when faced with obstacles. As a teacher, I think these experiences will prepare me to face every challenge head on and use my creativity to my advantage in order to give students the best educational experience possible. I think my experience with Kesem will allow me to bring the magic to the classroom and find the little joys in every day.”