Classroom Champions: Elementary art teacher wants to create a safe space

An art teacher in the Charleston County School District says she wants her students to leave her classroom feeling supported.
Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 7:01 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2023 at 9:19 PM EDT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - An art teacher in the Charleston County School District says she wants her students to leave her classroom feeling supported.

Victoria O’Keefe has been teaching at Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary for five years. The subject she holds dear to her heart is art. So much so, that O’Keefe says if it wasn’t for art, she might not have made it through school.

“I remember my art teachers; I honestly don’t think I would have made it through school if I didn’t have an art class every year to go to. I know that for a fact,” O’Keefe says.

O’Keefe says it’s plain and simple, art is her safe space. She says art has always allowed her to feel whole and calm, and that’s what her art classroom is all about. She received her degree in graphic design, created art, sold art but she never taught art.

Now as an art teacher, O’Keefe teaches kindergarteners through 5th graders, and she also teaches students from the exceptional program, which is the district’s special needs program. O’Keefe says some of her students aren’t fully accustomed to transitional classrooms. So to offset this, O’Keefe is striving for a “calming corner.”

“I think the world is heavy right now regardless of how young you are, and it might be coming from exposures outside the school or within the school, there’s a lot of pressure,” she said.

Bean bag chairs, calming pillows, and even a fun rug, O’Keefe wants her kids to know they are fully supported, no matter what they love. She says when her students step inside her room, she lets their creativity and imagination flow through colors, shapes and all types of art.

“Not everybody loves art, not everybody loves music but as long as they come in, try their best and they enjoy it and take something from it and they’re proud of what they did that’s what I want,” O’Keefe says. “I want them to be happy to come to my class and happy knowing they left with something that they worked hard and were proud about.”

Along with a calming corner, O’Keefe’s students use model magic clay to create sculptures and she says they can always use more in the classroom.

As a way to keep art alive outside of classroom hours, O’Keefe says clubs are provided for fourth and fifth graders at the end of the school day. This year, the students in O’Keefe’s club are creating a giant greeting card to enter into the James Island Festival of Lights contest. Eighteen students are creating their very own design and O’Keefe says last year the kids were overjoyed to enter, and they want to continue the newfound tradition this year.

If you’d like to help O’Keefe on her journey to get a calming corner, you can donate to her Donors Choose project, here. She still needs $431 for all of the materials.