Downers Grove art teacher broadens students’ horizons

Magen Newman never paid much attention to art until she took a class at Reavis High School.

“At that time, you had to take foreign language or fine arts,” Newman said. “I took Spanish, and I was terrible.”

She soon switched to an art class.

“I took a drawing class and I knew how to draw,” she said. “I had no idea [I could].”

Newman was so talented, she earned a scholarship to attend the Illinois Institute of Art in downtown Chicago.

She earned her degree in graphic design, but “I didn’t want to sit in an office,” Newman said.

Recalling the impact her high school art teachers made on her life, Newman decided to get a teaching degree at St. Xavier University.

Now she is in her fourth year of teaching art at Lakeview Junior High School in Downers Grove.

Newman, who previously taught at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in Chicago and Oak Lawn Community High School, loves traditional art, painting, drawing, digital art, graphic design and photography.

“It’s so cool to be able to share that with my students,” the 36-year-old Newman said.

“I think about myself as a kid and how I didn’t know I could do something in the arts and be successful.”

Of course, not everyone is a Picasso.

“The goal is not to be the star artist,” Newman said. “We want to see a little bit of growth.”

Lakeview Principal Jessica Foster, who nominated Newman to be profiled, said she “remains selfless and dedicated” during the pandemic.

“Magen has broadened the horizon of our students far beyond the scope of traditional middle school art curriculum to use various forms of art and media as a means of self-care and expression,” Foster said.

Last semester, Newman coordinated an art project for 350 students, called Project Semicolon, part of a national effort bringing awareness to student suicides.

The idea, Foster said, is that a semicolon means there is more to come, as opposed to the finality of a period.

Students used semicolons on postcards to express their positive messages. Dozens of the postcards are in display cases at the school.

“It was a lesson for the entire school during Suicide Prevention Month,” Newman said. “Students were asked to design a postcard they’d send someone with an uplifting message.”

Messages such as “Your story isn’t over,” “You can do it,” “You still matter,” and “Keep pushing,” are in the collection.

“It could be literal or be part of the drawing,” Newman said.

Another project had her helping students with “Doodle for Google.” Students submitted redesigns of the Google logo using the theme “I care for myself by ...”

She also heads a school project based on the TV show “Shark Tank” in which students are asked to create products.

Newman, who grew up in Burbank, is attending grad school for educational technology leadership at Concordia University.

She and husband, Don, live in Palos Hills with daughters Olivia, 13, and Molly, 2.

Unlike mom at that age, the girls are artistic.

“Olivia is very talented,” Newman said.