Jonny Schremmer | March 1 | Cougar Chronicle

Dear New School Families,

As we begin the official month of spring, I thought we’d focus on our fabulous art teachers who inspire TNS students to create beautiful work each and every day. 

Happy that the snow and freezing temps are behind us, Early Childhood teacher Natalie Ramsey had this to say: “Teaching in an outdoor classroom is always a rewarding experience, especially through a pandemic.  I feel that the children yearn to be outdoors more than ever this school year. My classes have enjoyed taking weekly nature walks on the TNS grounds.  We have hatched monarch butterflies, discussed animals, insects, weather and seasons.  Other unique activities this year have been an outdoor studio pumpkin patch, digging in the new digging pit, playing with water, building with bamboo found on the TNS grounds, collecting leaves, bird watching, and messy science experiments, just to name a few.  I have plans in place to build a working student-driven garden.  With a little work and help from Tri Cycle Farms, the TNS Outdoor Studio will continue to grow more learning opportunities for our youngest explorers.”

Our oldest students have made an impression on Aaron Giles this school year, who writes about her 7th-12th grade artists: “I think I have mostly been impressed with my students' resilience and positive attitude. They continue to be passionate about their interests and projects despite the difficult circumstances of this year.”

She continues, “This month, my visual arts classes just finished creating a beautiful series of relief prints using linoleum blocks. Students created colorful designs that visually represent an aspect of their identities and lives. We are embarking on a new project where students are creating self-portraits inspired by the artwork of Kehinde Wiley. Wiley is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of African Americans, frequently referencing the work of Old Master paintings. In ceramics, students just finished a project where they created a small Surrealist sculpture that represents some aspect of their identity and internal lives. We are now beginning a coral reef project where students will create coral reef forms which we will put together in an installation to make one sculpture. This project is inspired by the work of ceramicist and activist, Courtney Mattison. The sustainable art class is currently creating an installation piece for the Innovation Center in the Academic Building. This piece is a commentary on consumer culture and plastic waste. This project was created by the entire class which they have been working on  as a group. It has been very exciting to watch them create a work of art together about a social issue that they are passionate about.”

And her biggest challenge? “Communicating and interacting with students while wearing a mask all day. I miss being able to smile and see their faces light up!”

Lower school art teacher, Katie Parker, holds on to the knowledge that this situation, while difficult, is also temporary. She writes, “I’ve realized that no matter how much I wanted to keep things as “normal” as possible for my students, our projects and methods needed to be modified a lot this year.  I’ve had to remind myself that these changes are temporary, and we will be able to come back to the “hands-on” and wonderfully messy projects that we love, once we can do them safely.  

She continues, “At the start of second semester, I decided to change things up a bit.  I introduced my students to new artists, focusing on age appropriate projects and lessons.  We started learning about Romero Britto, who is alive and well and one of the most licensed artists in history.  All of my students in K-3 seemed to love his brightly-colored and happy style. They created projects inspired by his work, ranging from colorful marker drawings to 3D sculptures using Model Magic dough.  More recently, during Black History Month, the students have been learning about two very influential artists, Faith Ringgold and Alma Woodsey Thomas.  We listened to Faith Ringgold read her own story, “Tar Beach,” and the students created “story quilt” projects using scrapbook paper, oil pastels, and watercolor paint.  We will be learning more about Alma Thomas and her abstract painting style in the coming weeks. 

As so many of us have discovered over the past year, being forced to rethink things has brought about new and exciting opportunities. Katie concludes, “Having to put some projects on hold this year has allowed me to branch out from commonly known artists.  This has given the students a broader range of artists, many of whom were inspired by the work of the more commonly known artists that we study.  The connections between the well-known and the not-so-well-known artists has been very meaningful.”

Over in middle school, Bonnie King learns from her students everyday. She says, “Kids are resilient. Throw a challenge at them, be it masks or extra cleaning, and they will adapt.”

Her biggest challenge this year has been time. She explains, “It feels like there is never enough time. With studio and lab classes, you have to account for set up, clean up, and additional clean up due to the virus. That doesn’t leave as much time to dig in and create, reflect, and troubleshoot as students and I would both like.” But like her students, Bonnie has adapted to the challenge with resilience. “Fourth and fifth grade has been working with technology and engineering applications recently. After learning to count and code their names in binary last month, they’ve practiced using Adobe Illustrator to create custom Valentine Designs. Next we’ll be introducing robots! Students will work collaboratively to build battery-operated cars.”

Back to Early Childhood. When asked what she’s learned as a teacher in a pandemic, art teacher Christina Mariotti writes, “I've learned to exercise more patience, to try to take moments to breathe and center myself. I've never been through anything quite like this, where literally everyone else in the world is going through the same thing. Through it, though, I've seen so much creativity and joy as the children and others have used art as a tool for coping with the social isolation and lack of other forms of entertainment. That realization has been a gift, and a reminder of the importance of teaching art to these children now so they have this foundation throughout their lives.”

Christina summarizes how so many of us feel: “I'd like to say how grateful I am for how The New School and my colleagues have worked so hard to keep us safely working and teaching through this incredibly difficult time. It's not lost on me how rare and special that is. From Mary being on her feet for hours taking temperatures every morning to the smiling and accommodating faces of the kitchen staff taking such good care of us, and so many other examples. I could go on and on. I'm just so appreciative to be a part of the important cause of education.”

Resilience, growth and beauty. Happy Spring, everyone!

Jonny Schremmer

The New School Arts Director

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