It seems to Amy Sears that her life has come full circle.

The Ellis County Art Association recognized Sears, an art teacher at Baxter Elementary, as its co-teacher of the year along with Alexia Mentzel at Red Oak High School. Nearly 33 years prior, the same organization awarded her a scholarship as a senior in high school.

“It was really cool,” she said. “It was a neat thing to have.”

Sears has an unconventional take in the classroom. Chaos is not only welcomed, but it’s also encouraged.

Instead of telling the students what to create she encourages them to find their medium and explore their imagination.

“It’s beautiful creative chaos, but it works,” she explained. “They are on task and doing what they are expected to do.”

Sears room isn’t like any other on the hall. The chairs are splattered with dry bits of clay. Cardboard is piled on the floor and closets overflow with materials full of possibility.

When the students go into Sears’ cluttered classroom, they get right to work.

There are stations around the room with different art mediums to work in. Students could choose paints, clay, sewing, sculpting and anything they could imagine.

Rules of art don’t exist in here.

“I want to foster a love for the arts,” Sears said. “I’m not trying to make them little perfect artists. I just want them to have good memories from my room.”

That’s exactly what the fourth graders got Tuesday afternoon.

The students scatter after dropping their stuff off at the table in the middle of the room. Some go to the turntables and sprawl circles on paper without moving their pen. Others bust out the scissors and make virtual reality goggles out of cardboard.

Her afternoon students laughed and danced while they continuously ran up to Sears for help or reassurance.

“Mrs. Sears look at this,” one student said while holding a painting she started.

Sears stopped what she was doing to look at every project and answer every one of the hundred questions she was asked.

The students have incredible stories that go into their art, Sears said.

“Sometimes it doesn't look like a whole lot,” she said. “But when you take the chance to listen to the story of what they created, it’s fascinating.”

It’s hard to take the time to listen to each of their stories, but it’s important she said.

Sears said it’s so much more than showing the students how to do it and them just following directions. By allowing the students to experiment with different forms of art, they fall in love and build their confidence.

Fourth-grader Layla Henderson’s favorite medium is painting, but on Tuesday she decided to make an egg out of clay.

She laughed with her classmates, Christine Ray and Camryn Cooper, talking about their favorite animals and Harry Potter while they molding the wet grey material. Each of them has a different end goal in mind, but one thing was the same.

Mrs. Sears is awesome and art class is one of their favorites.

Sears’ classroom wasn’t always like this. Things changed about three years ago when she adopted the teaching for artistic behavior style she currently uses.

In the 1980s, art classes were structure to be academic which was meant to help it stand up to budget cuts, Sears said.

“I never bought into that,” she said.

After having her own children, she realized students needed more freedom to explore so she started researching and that’s when she found this teaching style.

“I realized that the child is so much more important than what’s on the paper,” she noted. “I don’t think when you first start out you realize that. You really are touching little souls.”

Since adopting this style, Sears has noticed that students notice each other’s work now. Before everyone’s art looked the same. Now the art isn’t something they were told to create; it’s something they wanted to create.

Not only are the students changing, but so is Sears.

She said she has become more creative in her own artwork by watching the kids go outside the bounds of their own comfort zone.

Attendance registrar Kathy Berg and Sears have worked together at Baxter for more than 20 years now. Sears taught Berg’s now-grown children and currently teaches her 10-year-old granddaughter.

“She’s so creative, and the kids love it,” Berg said.

Berg’s granddaughter absolutely loves art classes because it lets her be creative.

Her granddaughter comes home with different projects. Most recently, she came home with a castle of wood.

Berg added that Sears is an amazing colleague, friend and teacher, and she is deserving of the Ellis County Art Association recognition.

Sears lets the kids grow and create on their own terms, Berg said.

“She’s definitely not a coloring page kind of teacher,” Berg said. “She’s good. We like her.”

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Samantha Douty, @SamanthaDouty

469-517-1451