Last fall, Renee Gavigan was about three weeks into her student teaching at an elementary school in Black River Falls when her cooperating teacher told her that she had to modify a lesson she had written.
Fortunately for the UW-Eau Claire art education major, the changes were needed for an exciting — though completely unexpected — reason.
Turns out, her cooperating teacher, Jen Dahl, and her students at Red Creek Elementary School were selected to make ornaments to be featured this year during the National Christmas Tree Lighting event in Washington, D.C.
Gavigan’s leaf printing lesson was modified so it could be incorporated into the design of the 24 tree ornaments that would represent Wisconsin this year.
“Typically, older students are selected so being able to represent K-5 art was incredible,” Gavigan says, explaining that each year the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction selects one teacher and group of students to create the state’s ornaments. “It allowed us to showcase how awesome young artists can really be.”
Gavigan and Dahl facilitated student art projects featuring a variety of things that represent Wisconsin, including honeybees, butterflies, birds, plants, woodland creatures and cranberries.
They displayed the art on a six-sided cube, which made it possible to include more students’ art on each ornament.
The final ornaments featured art from students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Gavigan’s lesson involved second graders, who created prints of maple trees for one panel of the cube.
“My role as a student teacher allowed for me to write my own lesson and modify it as one of the sides of the final ornaments,” says Gavigan, who will graduate this month with a degree in art education and a certificate in French. “The whole process took about three months from start to finish.”
Every year, ornaments are made for 6-foot trees that represent every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia. The trees surround the National Christmas Tree and make up the "American Celebrates" display, which is open to visitors throughout December.
Earlier this month, Gavigan traveled with Dahl and the school’s principal to Washington, D.C., to see the display that featured their students’ art.
“This was my first time in D.C., and to be able to go with my cooperating teacher and principal at my placement was amazing,” says Gavigan, a native of Fitchburg. “I never expected when going into student teaching to be involved in this type of opportunity.
“In Washington, D.C., we watched the president’s tree lighting and saw many sites. It was one of the most memorable times for me here at UWEC.”
The experience also taught her important lessons that will serve her well in her teaching career, Gavigan says.
“My cooperating teacher really advocates for her class, students and student teachers, and it truly shows,” Gavigan says. “She showed me how to work hard, and to see a lesson from start to finish. In this case, seeing it to its finish included taking it all the way to D.C.”
Student teaching is a wonderful way to end what has been a college career filled with exceptional experiences, Gavigan says.
“Student teaching was my favorite part of UWEC because it was the last piece of the puzzle in my teaching classes and the ‘aha’ moment when things started coming together,” says Gavigan, who also was a student teacher at Chippewa Falls High School. “It was so helpful to be in the field and see what a full day entailed as an art teacher. Both of my placements have been different and informative in their own unique way.”
The experiences she had as a student teacher has her even more excited to pursue a career in art education, Gavigan says.
“I always knew I wanted to go into education, and I have worked with kids since I was a babysitter in seventh grade,” Gavigan says. “I took an intro to drawing class as a freshman and knew then that I had to pursue my degree in art education. I’ve been taking art classes for as long as I can remember, and art has always been a big part of my life.
“I am truly grateful that I can combine my love of art and teaching in my career.”
The art education faculty, along with fellow Blugolds who are pursuing their own careers in education, have supported and inspired her, Gavigan says.
“They have strengthened my drive to be an art teacher, even when I doubted myself,” Gavigan says. “I can't wait to see the great teachers my art education friends become.”
While art education has been her academic focus in college, Gavigan says she found many other ways outside her program to be involved as a Blugold.
A member of Blugold Marching Band for four years, playing the piccolo in the band allowed her to continue to be involved in music and to travel internationally when the band toured Southeast Asia in 2018.
As a Blugold, Gavigan also worked as a resident assistant, had teaching and volunteer positions with several organizations on and off campus, and was involved in a variety of campus organizations.
“Keeping busy taught me how to plan, but it also taught me about balance, which will help me greatly in my future as a teacher,” Gavigan says. “If you were to ask me what my AND was, I don't think I could keep it to just two.
“UW-Eau Claire has allowed me to explore so many outlets, and I feel that they have all prepared me well for my future career and life. Being an involved student while also pursuing my degree was fantastic.”
Top photo caption: Student teacher and new UW-Eau Claire art education graduate Renee Gavigan traveled to Washington, D.C., to see her students' artwork displayed.