To walk into Flavius Hall's art room at Dumfries Elementary School is to enter a world of color, movement, music and, above all, fun. Hall, Prince William County's Teacher of the Year and the winner of The Washington Post's Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award for the county, believes that elementary school art is more than finger painting and modeling clay -- although his students certainly get their share of pigment and clay under their fingernails.
When his class of first-graders finished decorating paper hats one day last week, they sang a song about them and did a dance mimicking all the designs -- polka dots, wavy lines, plaids and zigzags -- they had drawn on the hats. Background music came from a phonograph in the corner playing "Come on, baby, do the locomotion."
The lesson concluded with Hall, surrounded by children, talking with a homemade puppet named Wanda, who was having trouble spelling "design" and needed correction from the students.
"I love all the arts," said Hall, after he had waved goodbye to the children, who would return for another hour of his instruction in two weeks.
The dancing, he explained, served a dual purpose. "Little rhythmic exercises, it all fits into learning. Plus they naturally want to move," he said. "The environment here is pretty free. Here, they're making choices, making decisions. Otherwise they're sitting in class. A lot of their activity is sitting in a seat."
Hall, 42, also is on the lookout for "other little Flaviuses" among his students: "students for whom the arts gets them up in the morning and keeps them coming back to school."
"Those children can often get lost in the shuffle at school," he said.
Hall speaks with affection of his youth in New Bern, N.C., and of the two art teachers who "keyed into my interest in art."
"I was always the one doing the big chalk murals on the blackboard. Arts were the little spark in my life," he said.
Hall still paints in his spare time, and is an accomplished tap dancer. With Nola Moss, the school's music teacher, he has written several songs and a musical revue about a day in the life of a school, called "ABC, School's for Me."
This year, he and Moss directed an elaborate student musical at Dumfries for staff and families called "Standing Room Only."
While he was at East Carolina University, a stint teaching art and swimming at a YMCA camp convinced Hall that he wanted to teach. He came to Prince William County in 1974, after four years in North Carolina classrooms.
His classroom at Dumfries is a double-wide trailer he shares with Moss, and he says the two are glad to have it in this county, where crowded schools often mean art teachers trundle their supplies on a cart from room to room. Under posters proclaiming "Art, the First Language," the walls are plastered with prints from great artists -- Rembrandt, van Gogh, Winslow Homer, Henri Rousseau. And Hall uses them frequently in lessons.
"We write poetry from them. We do weather reports from them. There are lots of ways to communicate with a painting," Hall said.
In the eyes of his students, Hall's award is richly deserved. Most of the first-graders in his class one recent morning said they love art class.
With music playing in the background, the children merrily cut and pasted, and drew with magic markers, leaving a confetti of scraps for cleaning up later.
"You can do a lot of things. You can make hats, zig zags and dots and portraits," student Chris Kirby said.