AMHERST — Every year, second graders at Fort River Elementary School work on underwater sea drawings in art class.
Amid sketching fish and seaweed, art teacher Nicole Singer, who is in her sixth year at the school, said she will hear student conversation about boy-colored fish and girl-colored fish.
That’s when she intervenes, asking students questions that challenge their ideas like, “What makes you say that?” and “Do some girls wear blue?”
“Eventually the kids come to, ‘Oh OK, blue is really for everybody,’” she said.
For her feminist approach to instruction in the classroom, Singer was honored with an award at the National Art Education Association annual conference in Boston on March 14.
The Carrie Nordlund pre-K-12 Feminist Pedagogy Award, given annually by the National Art Education Association’s Women’s Caucus, honors an art educator who incorporates feminism and inclusivity into their work.
“She does an enormous amount in her classrooms,” said Patty Bode, who directed the graduate program Singer attended at Tufts University and worked as the interim principal of Amherst Regional Middle School while Singer taught at Fort River Elementary School.
Bode nominated Singer for the award and noted that Singer brings diverse artists into the curriculum and helps students understand gender stereotypes.
“She does it in ways that are accessible for elementary kids,” Bode said of Singer’s work. “She’s making sure every student has full access to their education, specifically in her case art education.”
Young elementary school students are not always able to grapple with feminism in the same way a high school student could, Singer said.
“For me the way it often manifests are these small moments of everyday feminism,” she said, like when the students talk about gender and colors they use in their art.