SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Lisa Brunick is retiring at the end of this school year from the Sioux Falls School District. She decided during winter she wanted to retire because she felt it was just time. But she didn't predict it would be in the middle of a pandemic. She's still teaching virtually, but she said it's been strange because she feels a little like she's retired already.
"One of my goals was helping kids understand that art-making was not just about a piece of paper in front of you on a table. So art at Hawthorne was about outreach," she said. "How can you make your community better? How can you strive for peace?"
She's tried to achieve this for 31 years in the Sioux Falls School District.
Twenty-eight of them were spent at Hawthorne Elementary School.
"She really embodies our philosophy of Ubuntu, which is 'I am who I am because you are who you are.' And that's how we use our staff and our student motto in our building is that we are all in this community together to make it a better place," Stephanie Jones said. Jones is the principal at Hawthorne Elementary School.
"I was always trying to learn more about my students, so I could incorporate what they knew into their artwork, and then they could teach their classmates about their own cultures and their own homes," Brunick said.
Brunick teaches Kindergarten through 5th grade art classes.
"She's always been willing to take a kid and say let me work with them for a while. Let them do art and see if that helps," Jones said.
Some of the bigger projects Brunick has helped create in Sioux Falls are the reading garden at Hawthorne and a large mural in Downtown Sioux Falls that celebrates diversity. She wanted students to be able to have an end product like that to show art from their hearts.
"But then I want those projects to have outreach, so there's purpose behind it, not just learning how to draw in one point perspective or how to mix primary colors," Brunick said. "We do that, but we do it because we want to share our artwork."
That's why teaching virtually is so hard right now. She's trying to come up with curriculum that everyone would have access to because she says she can't assume all of her students have crayons and a piece of paper.
"I'm still wondering, how are those kids doing? And I hope they're being safe and responsible and making a lot of art at their houses," she said. "It's very odd. It's kind of like I'm in limbo. Am I working? Am I not working"
She jokes she's practicing retirement from home right now as she finishes out her last school year, teaching some kids of parents she taught when she first started at Hawthorne.
"And I know I'm a much better person because of my Hawthorne years and students," she said.
She wants to go back to Hawthorne in the fall to give her students a proper goodbye with hugs.
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