More than teaching art |

More than teaching art

Veronica Whitney

The Visiting International Faculty, or VIF, program chose Ikin, 30, of Sydney, Australia, as the leading exchange teacher in Colorado this year.

Ikin, an art teacher at Gypsum Elementary School, was selected among the 85 teachers from 14 countries working in Colorado through the VIF program.

“Fiona’s teaching goes beyond art. It’s fun to see what kids can do beyond reading and writing,” says Gypsum Elementary School Principal Mike Gass. “Having her here, and the other VIF teachers, is good because they add a lot of flavor to our school. We’ve been very lucky with all our VIF teachers.”

Ikin, on her second year of the VIF’s three-year program in Eagle County, teaches art to children from kindergarten to fifth grade.

“I want the students here to relate to the projects they do,” she says helping fourth-grade student Rachael Burnett with a drawing.

Support Local Journalism

To do this, Ikin says, she looks at the children’s age group and what surrounds them.

“For example, third-graders focus on fast food, and with fourth-graders I do a lot of work with clay. They love it.”

Before coming to the United States, Ikin taught for a month in the Fiji Islands.

“Because it was so warm, I taught under the trees all the time,” she says. “It was very interesting because I got to learn about their culture, too.”

However, she says, Ikin enjoys working in the United

States because there’s no cultural barrier and she can focus on teaching.

“The first months, the kids thought I was from Africa – because Australia also starts with an “A,'” she says. “The children are used to my accent. But they correct me when I say “rubbish bin’ instead of “trash’. I like to expose them to a different way of speaking.”

Ryan McFarling, a fifth-grade teacher at Gypsum, says he admires Ikin’s innovation in the projects she assigns and the way she meshed cultural lessons about Australia with the art curriculum.

“I have never seen anything that compares to the creations that come from Miss Ikin’s room,” McFarling says. “Students experiment with a variety of media, the third dimension, live models, continuous-line drawing as well as with the standard foundations of art.”

Ikin, Gass says, not only worked Aboriginal and other Australian themes into art classes, she also shared Australian culture in various ways with the community in many after-school activities, including the Snowboard Outreach Society’s program for children with special needs.

Christine Botheras, a fellow-VIF teacher from Australia at Gypsum Elementary School, says Ikin’s position as art teacher enables her to work and exchange ideas with all her colleagues.

Recently, fourth-graders completed a pottery project with a Native-American motif.

“I look at what subjects they’re learning so the art projects relate to that,” Ikin says.

Ikin, who lives in East Vail with her boyfriend, Scott Bridges, a firefighter in Vail, has one more year teaching in the valley. After that, she says, she plans to continue teaching abroad.

“The school staff has been extremely supportive,” she says. “I’ve put holes all over the school to hang art.”

VIF, an international cultural-exchange program for educators, was founded in 1987 and is based in Chapel Hill, N.C. More than 1,700 international exchange teachers work in the program in eight states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, Kansas, Colorado and California.

VIF honors every year the outstanding exchange teachers, as well as the districts and schools that host VIF teachers.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 454 or at

Support Local Journalism