Fostering creativity & inspiration for young artists - Aspen Country Day School


Fostering creativity & inspiration for young artists

November 10, 2022

Aspen Country Day Lower School Art Teacher Debi Bender

Ask any art teacher about the qualities they want to foster in students, and the words “creativity” and “inspiration” are sure to be part of the answer. But how does the art teacher, herself, stay creative and inspired in her teaching?

For Debi Bender, who began teaching in Lower School (Kindergarten to Fifth Grade) at Aspen Country Day School in 2021, her own artmaking practice provides inspiration. And so does professional development — the constant pursuit of new knowledge and skills.

Debi has been has been teaching for 20 years between her native Delaware, Connecticut, and Colorado. She values each classroom experience, although as an artist, she admits to being partial to her current backdrop: the mountains. 

“I love science and make a lot of connections between science and nature in my curriculum,” says Debi. There’s so much support for the arts in this particular mountain town. Students often show up with a love for art, have an extra appreciation for what we’re doing in class, and then expand on the connections of what they already know.”

Many of Debi’s personal paintings and drawings are inspired by intricate patterns she sees in nature, especially wild animals and landscapes. She uses different types of media on a variety of surfaces to add depth and texture to her work, which can be seen in local venues such as Carbondale’s Thunder River Theatre Company and her online gallery. A jewelry major in college, Debi also has new pieces in her collection available at The Aspen Hive.

“Cliffhouse View” a watercolor by Debi Bender

More inspiration comes from experiences like participating in a recent visiting artists educator workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village. The October weekend session aimed to strengthen Latinx arts and culture offerings in the local and regional communities.

Aspen Country Day prioritizes professional development for teachers because evidence shows that a high level of content mastery by educators can be a powerful tool for keeping students inspired.

Student achievement can also improve by up to 21% when teachers participate in well-designed programs to further their own learning, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Professional development helps teachers stay current with educational technology and best practices in the field, which in turn yield better learning outcomes for students.

At the Anderson Ranch “Finding Your Voice: Culture and Community in Latinx Art” event, Debi took in panel discussions about cultural stewardship and how to bolster artistic excellence in the Latinx community in Colorado.

Then, in hands-on workshops, she gathered new skills to bring back to her classroom. One session, with renowned artist Ricky Armendariz, centered on the idea of creating detailed printmaking projects to pass down generational stories with morals through oral traditions and illustrations.

“I always do printing on paper, but Ricky had us working with fabric and carving into linoleum and wood,” Debi says. “We do it in a more simplistic way in the ACDS Lower School, but I love the idea of my students illustrating objects beyond what’s on a simple piece of paper.”

Another workshop, with artist and designer Rafael Fajardo, who is known for creating boundary-blurring video games, took Debi further outside of her comfort zone.

“The video side of what Rafael does is really foreign to me and I’m so glad I went and did it,” Debi says. “The larger-than-life computer animations, notably with butterflies, were interactive depending on where you were in the room. It’s such an innovative way to engage students by incorporating novel perspectives and formats.”

Printmaking with Ricky Armendariz | October 8, 2022 

A recent Lexia Learning poll found a majority of teachers are concerned about burnout, but that investing in their knowledge and careers will help keep them empowered and engaged. The strong support for professional development at Aspen Country Day School is powered by the annual fund, which underwrites many such opportunities. Here, to ensure that students become lifelong learners, teachers are glad that they, too, never stop learning.