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Crossroads Art Teacher Enjoys Work
Art teacher Shawn Choate's room is a whirlwind of activity and a riot of color as second graders bustle around daubing paint on further masterpieces to add to those on the walls. On a recent day they applied salt to their paintings of a turtle to study surface textures and later sprinkled glitter over blobs of glue on their work.

"My art came on a cart last year. I went from room to room. Now I have a class room all of my own," Choate commented proudly.

A grade school teacher for many years, Choate has taught general subjects at most elementary grades including Title I reading at Charles Brown School before moving here in 2007. She has a degree in fine arts from Stanislaus State University so she jumped at the opportunity of teaching art, even part-time, at the Sylvan School District's Crossroads School in Riverbank.

It's obvious she and the children are having fun. There's far less regimentation than in an ordinary classroom. The children move around and talk more. But they quiet down and line up when ordered. That control comes from being a kindergarten teacher, she said.

"Being an artist, it's OK to be messy and untidy, I tell the kids, so long as you clean up afterwards," she said, wiping her hands on her colorful, tie-dyed smock. "Art is a place to take risks, safely. If plan A doesn't work, go to plan B. Everyone gets an A, for imagination."

Nowadays, children are so constrained and disciplined and subject to never ending tests, they can lose their enthusiasm and drive to learn. Art offers an opportunity to give them more freedom of expression.

"It gets ridiculous when a child is asking permission to go sharpen his pencil," she noted.

She seats children before a chart to teach them about warm colors like red, orange and yellow and cold colors such as blue and green, moves rapidly to the desk to help them decorate their turtle paintings, then awards candy for the best cleaned up desk with all the pencils, paints, etc. collected in a container before they leave the room.

Despite the rough economic times which have seen many school districts cut back in art and music and so-called 'frills' programs, the Sylvan District strongly supports the arts as part of an all-round education and has worked to keep at least five or six art teachers in the district, she said.

Besides giving her a classroom of her own, the district equipped it with modern technology aids like Internet access and projectors. So she can present slide shows of classic artists ranging from Picasso to Andy Warhol.

"Being a teacher is a tough job and this job (art teaching) is challenging," she added.

Choate likes working part-time because it allows her ample time that she can spend with her family and in hobbies. Her husband Dennis works for Moran Harris Seed Company in Modesto, a 24-year-old son Bryan is a Pacific Gas & Electric Company lineman - the type lowered by helicopter to repair lines way out in the wilderness - and a daughter Bonny is now attending Chico State University.

"My true passion," Choate confided, "is horse riding, both trail riding and hunter pacing."