When Margarita Logvinov moved from Ukraine to Philadelphia at age 12, she would sketch during most of her classes because she didn’t understand English.
She drew things she missed from Ukraine, like horses and waterfalls, and what she observed in her new classrooms.
While she did not take an art class, her school art teacher pulled her from her study halls and let her work with paints. Logvinov’s first two paintings were made during those study halls.
“It was definitely such a boost of inspiration, and just gave me energy because I saw that kids liked it and you know, people recognize what I valued,” she said. “At that moment, I kind of decided that I would want to do that for other kids.”
Logvinov, a 2012 art education alumna, uses her experiences as an artist and immigrant to help her students feel comfortable making art at the Andrew J. Morrison Elementary School in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia.
At the Andrew J. Morrison Elementary School, there is a large immigrant population. Logvinov said there are a lot of students who are Cambodian, Japanese or Chinese, or who speak Spanish, Haitian or French.
Some of these students are still in the process of learning English, Logvinov said. While they might not be able to express everything through words, they are always encouraged to draw and express themselves that way.
Angie and Suleidy, fifth graders at the elementary school, use art to express the beauty in their new culture.
“You’re in a colorful world,” said Angie, who immigrated to the United States from Ecuador at age 7.
Suleidy moved to the U.S. at age 9 from the Dominican Republic. She and Angie now take art class together.
During Logvinov’s time growing accustomed to American life, art was her escape.
“I guess it was a tough age to begin with because you’re a teenager, and now it’s a new culture, new language, new everything,” she said.
Logvinov said she understands the struggles her students go through and finds ways to make them feel welcome. The doors to her classroom are painted as a rainbow and inside, along a wall, there are greetings written in several languages.
“At the beginning of the year, I was telling them, ‘Let’s welcome everybody who maybe doesn’t look like you or are not from the same place as you are, because we’re all people,’” she said.
In the classroom, there are art stations set up where students are able to choose what medium they want to work with. They can experiment with two- and three-dimensional media, like pencil and paper, paints, clay and magnetic building blocks.
The students in Logvinov’s classes also engage in several collaborative projects. One ongoing project is a mural on the third floor of the elementary school.
A few years ago, a survey was sent out to students and faculty asking about their role models, and the people who received the most votes were included in, or will eventually be a part of, the mural. Teachers and students suggested celebrities, like Allen Iverson, Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey.
Logvinov said her time studying at Tyler left a major impact on her interest to pursue art education. Support from professors like Lisa Kay, Jo-Anna Moore and Wendy Osterweil was important in her own success, she added.
“They were awesome, and helped me get my educational part ready,” she said. “It goes back to supportive professors, somebody who can challenge you and help you challenge yourself.”
She and Moore, who was the coordinator of Tyler’s art education program for more than 20 years, attended the Early Career Art Teachers meet-ups, where new art education alumni share their experiences working in the classroom.
“She’s very active in the art community,” Moore said. “It’s wonderful to see what students are doing after they graduate.”
Logvinov added that it can be difficult to run an art program in the Philadelphia School District when funding is sparse. She often has to pay for art supplies out of her own pocket or she depends on help from nonprofits.
“There’s definitely a lack of funding and something needs to happen to make sure we’re able to deliver meaningful lessons and things they can experiment with,” Logvinov said.
Logvinov said she sees an immense need for the arts.
“There are a lot of kids who deal with tough issues, and going through this age is so hard,” she said. “So maybe they might not be able to say it, but sometimes they might use painting to get that energy or aggression out. It can be therapeutic.”