Art teacher Kim Barge structures her classroom around the idea that students need a little light-heartedness in their stressful days.
She praises them. She uses sarcasm and tells jokes. She dances and sings. Mrs. Barge’s class is fun and relaxed.
But all of this comes with one simple stipulation for every student who enters her class.
“We are serious about art,” Barge said.
Barge teaches Visual Art 1, Drawing and Painting 1 & 2, AP Art and Broadcast at Buford High School, a school of about 1,400 students in Buford, Georgia.
She’s been teaching a total of 10 years. She began teaching continuing education classes at the University of Georgia in 2007. In 2012, she finished up a master’s degree at the University of North Georgia and began working in public schools. She’s been at Buford since 2013.
Barge has always loved art. That’s what drew her to teaching.
“I wanted to give students who are interested in art a good experience in the classroom,” she said.
Each new school year, her approach is to get to know her students quickly. She wants to know their personalities, strengths and weaknesses.
She doesn’t grade based upon the quality of work everyone in the class creates. She grades based upon whether the individual students do their personal best.
“My students do really well in my class if they put forth the effort,” Barge explains. “Students who come into my classroom frustrated, they think they’re not good at art, they don’t want to be here, I tell them, ‘Just you wait.’ They usually end up enjoying the class.”
Barge wants her students to know that they can make money creating art. She enters her student’s artwork into four or five art shows each year.
Of the approximate 170 students Barge has across all of her classes each year, she tends to have around 60 of them participate in the National Art Honors Society (NAHS).
Each student submits their best three pieces of art to the NAHS and those pieces are sold. Fifty percent of the proceeds go to the students and 50 percent go to a scholarship fund.
Each year, a senior gets a $500 scholarship from the money raised.
Madison McManners, a senior at Buford, has been taking classes with Mrs. Barge since freshman year. Her favorite memory involves raising money for the senior scholarship.
Barge arranged for the art students to have a table at a local fair to sell their art. Out of nowhere, it started raining.
“Mrs. Barge was running around left and right protecting all of the art and, somehow, we were able to sell a few pieces. It was the first time we all felt like we were making a difference. Looking back, I’ll never forget how much fun she made selling art as a freshman in the pouring rain.”
Barge’s students describe her as compassionate, dedicated, patient and involved and her classroom as open and welcoming during class times as well as during the open art times she hosts on Mondays and Wednesdays.
McManners will tell you that Mrs. Barge has a heart of gold, that she cares more than any other art teacher she has known.
“Her classroom is never not filled with people because, for many, including myself, her room is a safe place. A refuge. You don’t have to be anyone or try to impress anyone. And if you’re a little strange, it’s OK. That’s who Mrs. Barge is.”
Mrs. Barge herself will tell you that she’s the one benefiting from her career choice.
“I like teaching because the kids inspire me,” Barge said. “As much as I love art, I love my relationship with my kids more.”