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Middle school teacher uses art to connect with history, math and more

August 27, 2018

BULLHEAD CITY — Terry Dolan can’t stop making connections.

Therefore, the Bullhead City Middle School art teacher intertwines projects in her classes with lessons in history, math, science and other more obscure subjects.

“The more connections you can make, the more memorable it becomes,” she said. “The more it sticks with them.”

Dolan’s own experience is a mashup of sorts: she majored in history at Western Connecticut State University and minored in art.

“I wanted to major in art,” she said. “But my father wouldn’t let me.”

Her father, Frank Dolan, a rocket scientist, thought she should pursue a more “academic” field, she said.

“He realized later on that art could be very academic, when he saw the kind of lessons I taught,” Dolan said.

She is now in her 41st year as a teacher, having taught history and gifted education before moving to art 30 years ago.

Dolan said that her father spurred her desire for knowledge and her love for art.

“My dad took my brother and I to every museum on the eastern seaboard,” she recalled.

Her youth also was filled with discussions with her father about history and culture.

“I was a little egghead with him,” Dolan said. “He didn’t think it was wrong for a girl to be smart — he wanted to raise a smart daughter.”

Projects her students will work on this year include a sarcophagus, kirigami, origami and a hamsa.

The latter is a biography of a student, drawn in watercolor inside a tracing of his or her hand.

Dolan’s own hamsa contains references to her New York State upbringing, Saint Theresa (who shares her given name), her life in Arizona and her “inner wild woman.”

Each will choose a role model and use petroglyphs to tell that person’s story.

Part of what Dolan wants to give the students is a respect for materials. To that end, she said, the students are learning to re-use items such as dot matrix printer paper or overhead transparencies.

The latter will be used for a stained-glass window project.

Another project was generated by Dolan’s own curiosity. While preparing for a simulation of the Krakatoa volcanic eruption, she found herself wondering about the toys children in the area played with.

She discovered that one popular toy in the Indonesian province was a leather stick puppet. Dolan’s classes soon will be making similar items from card stock.

At the end of the nine-week class, each student will take home a book containing all of the projects.

The portfolios are made from old textbooks covered in fabric and Dolan said they will be as different as the students themselves.

“It’s like I’m a conductor on a train guiding them to their destinations,” she said. “I want them to do their art, not my art.”

One project not going into the portfolio is a set of decorated buckets that will be presented to children in a local shelter.

“People think junior-high kids are selfish,” Dolan said, “I want to show that they are selfless.”

Dolan wants to make art class a combination of fun and creative thinking.

“Everything else in their realm is test-oriented,” she said. “We can bring out the best in them through the arts. I want to tap their imagination, let them go wild, let them be free thinkers.”

Dolan always has enjoyed working with children and served as a camp counselor with the Girl Scouts. Later, she was the director of arts and crafts at a camp and “I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher.”

A common assumption is that arts and sciences are two different disciplines, but they actually are related, Dolan said.

According to Dolan, artists use science when working out proportions and science is necessary for many art materials.

While she understands the importance of using technology, she also wants students to be comfortable working with their hands.

BCMS Principal Joyce Pietri said that Dolan’s approach is a benefit to the entire school, and keeps the students motivated.

“I really like the way she incorporates content into her artwork,” Pietri said. “It really supports our whole program at the school.”

Pietri said that Dolan inspires other teachers to add creative elements to their lessons.

“She builds relationships with the kids, as well,” Pietri said. “I’m just really glad she’s there. I think we’re really lucky to have her.”

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