Mom of two and local teaching artist Amanda Koonlaba has been making art since she was child, turning an early passion into a career with art classes and summer camps throughout the year that are open to area students, homeschoolers and adults.Pointing to a series of art exercises on the wall outside of her office in which students were instructed to draw three circles in the top left corner, Koonlaba said children particularly benefit from creating art because it becomes personal for them.

The drawings showed the different ways each child interpreted the instruction, such as two circles within one circle.

“When they are creating a piece of art where they have made personal choices about what colors they use and how to represent what they are trying to show through their artwork, they are automatically going to care about it, and then if you can connect that thing that they care about, you can connect that to a math skill, and they are going to care about that math skills,” Koonlaba said.

She started her career working as an art teacher at Lawhon Elementary and has now expanded her career to include a variety of classes at the Link Centre. Koonlaba said she has noticed that learning art at a young age helps children with the development of fine motor skills, tactile skills and social skills.

Today, she is on the Mississippi Arts Commission’s teaching artist roster and under that umbrella she teaches open art classes, both home school and after school student art classes, hosts art camps, professional development with teachers regarding visual art and arts integration.

“I’ve always been an artist and when I started teaching, I taught third grade one year and first grade for about six years and I was Pierce Street and Thomas Street where we did arts integration, I had done my student teaching there and it really was the only way I knew how to teach,” Koonlaba said.

Koonlaba works out of a studio called Party in the Art Room, where she teaches art classes to a variety of students.

Her home school art class are Wednesday mornings at 11 a.m., after school classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays although she is looking to add more. There are currently four art camps planned for the summer for all ages to include photography, storybook creation, animal art and a fairytale theme.

With a background in public education, Koonlaba said her classes are open to everyone.

“I work with a range of abilities too, so I have some students with special needs, beginners, more advanced artists,” Koonlaba said.

“It’s completely inclusive to anyone that wants to do art,” she said.

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