Laurie McLane-Higginson remembers the early days of the Lawrence school district's elementary art program.
In fact, for a while there, she was the program.
When McLane-Higginson was hired by the district in 1983, she was the district's sole elementary art consultant and worked with students at 17 schools. Today, thanks in large part to her campaigning, the district has 13 elementary art teachers.
That's just one reason she has been named this year's "Outstanding Elementary Art Teacher in Kansas" by the Kansas Art Education Assn. The association will present the award at its annual conference Oct. 8-9 in Topeka.
No longer an art consultant, McLane-Higginson now teaches at Quail Run School.
"We wanted to recognize Laurie because she was here before anyone else, and she was real instrumental in getting all the other art teachers hired," said Brigid Murphy, an art teacher at Deerfield School who nominated McLane-Higginson. "Plus she's just a really good teacher."
Enter McLane-Higginson's art room and you find classic works such as Leonardo de Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and Grant Wood's "American Gothic." You also find a historical time line that goes back to the earliest cave drawings.
"Most art is documenting something about a period in history," McLane-Higginson said. "I just try to show the students why it was relevant to that time, and it really helps them to have a deeper, clearer understanding."
Matthew Berg, a Quail Run sixth-grader, recognizes McLane-Higginson's dedication to teaching art.
He said he's looking forward to the art club that will begin meeting in October. McLane-Higginson will work with interested sixth-graders once a week before school.
"She does that in her spare time," Matthew said. "That's something extra."
Jessica Hunt, another sixth-grader, said McLane-Higginson "teaches you art in a fun way. She also tells you how you can do your art better."
While some of McLane-Higginson's students might someday choose a career in art, she said her primary goal is to help her students appreciate the arts.
"I just love art, so I hope I can pass the love of it and appreciation of it," she said.
She added that the push for more art teachers wasn't something she undertook alone. She said a lot of her help came from Alan Brummell, the second elementary art consultant that the district hired. Brummell now teaches art at Schwegler School.