Back in March, when San Francisco first shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, artist and illustrator Sirron Norris wasn’t sure what he would do about the animation summer classes he teaches.
His wife, a vice president at Foothill College, encouraged him to figure out how he could teach the classes online. He did some cartooning lessons on Instagram Live and started to work on a curriculum for Zoom. Some people believed things would open up fairly soon, but Norris was convinced the shutdown would last a while—and it turns out he was right.
“Early on, I was experimenting with how we can still teach and engage while staying inside,” he said. “I’m very on the news nonstop, so I was thinking we weren’t going to be doing in person classes, and I just dug my heels in early, like in April.”
Norris says the five people he works with, who make most of their money with him in the summer classes, thought it was crazy not to prepare for in-person classes. But because he started early planning how to do online classes, it worked.
“I built my curriculum, and by time the summer camps came, we had enough sign-ups that I needed all five people on my staff,” he said. “Everybody got paid.”
The classes went well, he says. The secret? Having more than one teacher. So while he was teaching, one assistant, Brendon Metcalf, was checking in to see how the kids were doing and communicating with him.
“I built a curriculum around constant attention,” Norris said. “So I was animating, and if some kid is lost, Brendon takes them into a room, and I keep going. We have a lot of 10 minute breaks—we’re dealing with artists and they can burn out. We do a lot of dance breaks.”
Now Norris and his coworkers are preparing for an after-school program starting September 14, teaching kids third grade and above cartooning, comics, animation, and creative writing. The class meets for an hour a day, from four to five p.m., and unlike the summer program, they don’t create a final product. Norris, who has been teaching about 20 years, expects it to be just as much fun.
Norris says he gets kids who take the classes more than once, and he can work with them more on animation or what they’re interested in. His assistants Metcalf and Bria Goeller, who go by Mr. B and Ms. B in class, will send students in to him who want to go into something deeper, he says.
“We have the Blue Bear Room, the Orange Cat Room and the Pink Bunny Room,” Norris said. “I’ll be working in the Blue Bear Room, and a kid will show up. Mr. B and Ms. B wouldn’t send them with a frivolous question—it’ll be something about storytelling, for example.”
One thing that’s nice about having the classes online, Norris says is that the students work more with others of different ages.
“I feel like every kid has a forum and the kids are speaking up,” he said. “So sometimes a seven or eight year old and a 12 year old really talk, and that would never happen in a class. It’s not intimidating to speak up.”
Siron Norris’ After School Programs start September 14. For five weeks, they will be online via Zoom, from four to five p.m. The curriculum is designed for students in third grade and above. For more information and to sign up, go here.