A new teacher is unleashing students’ creativity in the Art Lab at J.H. McGaugh Elementary, the only public school in the city of Seal Beach, and it’s all possible because of the fundraising efforts of parent volunteers and the support from the local community.
Anya Cappon began teaching at McGaugh in January. “Arts are a way to explore new skills in an expectation-free environment,” Cappon said during a recent interview over Zoom. “Art is so important for creative problem-solving,” she added, saying through art, students gain a new understanding of their own creative pathways.
Cappon, an accomplished artist, said she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Chapman University in 2020 and has been teaching art to children as young as toddlers for years.
Now at McGaugh, she’s infusing her background using mixed media into students’ weekly art lessons. So far, students have created self-portraits, studied African-inspired art, and completed weaving projects using yarn and paper.
Cappon tailors the art lessons and concepts to each grade level, from kindergarten through fifth, so that students are building on their skills and understanding.
Cappon is also guiding students as they work on a life-sized painting that will be part of McGaugh’s beloved Pageant of the Arts performance later this school year.
“The exposure to the different ways of making art is absolutely incredible,” Cappon said, crediting the well-stocked Art Lab, which includes a kiln she hopes to use for a ceramics project in the future.
These supplies, and Cappon’s position at McGaugh, are all made possible due to the fundraising efforts from the volunteer-run nonprofit, Project SEEK (Seeking Excellence in Education for Our Kids).
“We are so excited to have Miss Anya to teach our Art Lab,” said Project SEEK President and McGaugh parent Claudia Vecchio Wille. “[Cappon] understands the value of art education and how it helps students develop problem-solving skills, a growth mindset and self-confidence.”
Project SEEK pays for the majority of Cappon’s salary in an arrangement with the Los Alamitos Education Foundation with LAEF covering additional costs including payroll taxes and some forms of insurance.
For nearly 30 years, Project SEEK has taken on the challenge of raising enough money to also pay for the teachers’ salaries and the supplies for McGaugh’s Innovation Lab, where students learn hands-on S.T.E.M. concepts, and the Sea Lion Lab, where children learn technology skills.
“In line with the Los Alamitos Unified School District’s “Four A’s,” [Academics, Athletics, Activities, Arts], McGaugh parents have continued to prioritize art instruction for our students. Because of our generous sponsors over the years, we are the only elementary school in the district who has been able to do so,” Vecchio Wille said.
“I’m grateful for the parents,” Cappon said. “It’s all possible because the parents know that art is important for their kids.”
And it’s also possible because community members and local businesses continue to support Project SEEK’s mission to bring arts education to local students. On April 8, Project SEEK will host its biggest annual fundraiser, The Event, an evening celebration and auction. To find out how you can support Project SEEK, visit ProjectSEEK.org.
The author is the parent of two McGaugh students and a volunteer with Project SEEK.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from the version that ran in the March 17, 2022 print edition to correct the details of how LAEF and Project SEEK together fund the McGaugh art teacher position.