Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Mom, I have the best gift for you...ever!"

All I Want for Christmas is You from Hugh Bickley on Vimeo.

A week before Christmas my 16 year old, Brian, began dropping hints.

"You're gonna love your present from me this year."

"What? No last minute shopping?", was my sarcastic response.

"It's not a material gift."

'Then it would be a spiritual gift?" I said, with just a slight smirk.

"You'll see."

Christmas morning, Brian asked me to bring down my laptop.

"This", he announced "is from me and the rest of my friends who have no jobs."

He was right. I really DID love it

(BTW - Brian, AKA Young B, is the kid in the grey hooded jacket)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Another Soldier Story

My students call it the "ghetto security system" although I prefer the term "old school" to "ghetto". Regardless of the moniker, the cowbells wired to the top of my classroom door are pretty effective at alerting us whenever anyone enters or leaves the art room. A hand on the door knob is enough to set them clanging.

"You've got a visitor! Should I get the door?"

I looked up from the paintbrushes I was cleaning and dropped them into the sink. Nearly tripping over a chair, I raced to the front of the room where a young soldier had just stepped inside.

"Oh my god! You're back! Look at you!"

"Is that your daughter?" a tenth grade boy asked as I stepped back from the warm hug.

"Some things never change." I laughed "This is Tabitha, and she has been my daughter since she was a freshman at Max Hayes. She adopted me."

For four years Tabitha was a fixture in the art studio. Her blond hair drew attention in an urban school where the majority of her classmates had darker complexions, and students often assumed, because of my 'currently blond' hair, that we were certainly related. Growing tired of their questions, Tabitha began calling me "Mom".

Eyeing the beige and green fatigues, I asked, "I heard you were going to join the Marines. What happened ? Was I misinformed?"

"The Marines promised money for college, but it seems they have no idea how much college costs these days. The Army had a better education program. I'll be starting nursing school soon."

"I'm so proud of you. You look so much better than the last time I saw you at your sister's commencement."

"I am better."

After graduating in 2006, Tabitha followed the same path as many of her classmates, as she tried to figure out what to do with her life. Unable to afford college, she had spent the last couple of years working, first at a pizza shop and then at a used car lot. When I saw her in the auditorium at her younger sister Samantha's graduation, she looked tired and miserable, and left immediately after the ceremony with hardly more than a wave in my direction. A very different young woman in front of me now. She was animated, confident, and happy.

"I've been in the Army for seven months. I love it. I completed my training as a petroleum specialist, but I decided what I really wanted to do was nursing. Right now I'm stationed in Virginia. They let me come home for Christmas because in February I'm being deployed."

"Deployed?" With that single word, my heart sank.

"I'll be going to Iraq for one month, and then on to Afghanistan for twelve months." Accurately reading my furrowed brow, she added "Don't worry. I'll be fine. Actually I'm excited about going, it will be an adventure."

I cannot keep track of how many of my students are now fighting overseas. Like Tabitha, many will come by to visit with me before they go to war, but very few ever come back to talk about it when they return. As often as they promise to write or call, I've never received a letter or even an email, but admittedly I did not take the initiative to write either. I think about these young men and women all the time, wondering where their lives have taken them. About eight years ago one of my boys, who had joined the Marines, came back to see me after returning from a violent episode he experienced while on a stint in Lebanon. He recounted his tour of duty for more than an hour in my office, with tears running down his face. It was quite heart wrenching.

I've often said that one of the best things about teaching high school are the relationships you build with your students. When those relationships become friendships that sustain into adulthood, a teacher feels truly blessed. I am grateful to have made some very dear friends over the course of my career.

Tabitha and I met for lunch at Stone Mad a couple of days before Christmas. We talked about everything from families to boyfriends, gossiped about classmates and faculty, and even discussed philosophy and religion. We lingered, laughing and chatting until the dinning room was empty, and the wait staff were anxious. Before we parted we exchanged e-mails, phone numbers and addresses. This time I will make certain I write the first letter...After all she is my daughter.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Max Hayes Art Club, and a Case for Experiential Learning

I have always believed the axiom "Experience is the best teacher" which, I suppose, is one of the reasons why, even as a student, I was drawn to the classes where you worked with your hands. I always enjoyed my science labs immensely (yes, I used to teach science years ago) and the art studio just felt like home. Field trips also made quite an impact. New sights, different faces, and the possibility of adventure brought a sense of excitement to a week day that typically plodded along to the drone of lectures accented by school bells.

When I first became a teacher in the Cleveland schools, a district constantly strapped for cash, we were subtly discouraged from taking students out of the classroom on field trips. The cost of transportation coupled with the cost of having a substitute cover the remaining classes made any excursion prohibitive. Scheduling a field trip was also very tricky, since there are so many mandatory tests given throughout the year, some of them lasting as long as a week. Faced with these constraints, many Cleveland teachers, including myself, put field trips on the back burner, except perhaps for a visit to the Art Museum once every couple of years.

The award of a four-year Young Audiences ICARE grant 0f approximately $120,000 in 2002, allowed me to break free of the status quo mind set of "it can't be done."

Oh my! How quickly I discovered, money certainly can change things.

When the grant period concluded in 2006, I wanted to continue offering my students some of the same quality arts experiences, but once again, funds and scheduling remained obstacles.
The solution?
After school programing solved the scheduling problems. The Max Hayes Art Club meets Thursdays after school from 2:30 until 4:00. It is run as a drop-in studio with a Zen approach to membership, meaning: Whoever shows up is who is supposed to be there.
On studio days, the kids are given materials to work with that I don't typically use in class, due to cost and/or limited quantities. So far this year we have finger painted, worked with oil pastels, charcoal, and painted Christmas ornaments.
Funding for art supplies remains a constant issue. This year we were given a $50 donation from money raised by the kind efforts of Convivium 33 Gallery owner, Alenka Banco. I look for discount and sale items whenever I'm shopping, and am happy to pick up the tab for a few items here and there that I know the students will enjoy using.
The best part of the Art Club experience though has been the field trips.

Field trips are scheduled on random days, as the opportunities become available. This semester we have trekked to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Spaces Art Gallery (several times) Convivium 33 Gallery, Streets of Manhattan Glass Studio, and the W 69th Street studio of sculptor Melissa Daubert. The only cost to the district is the price of a bus ticket on the RTA.

In January we will be heading out to The Glass Studio to learn glass blowing with Mike Zelenka, a glass artist who also works at Max Hayes as a tennis coach and substitute teacher. I'll be sure to post those photos next month.

On a more philisophical note:

If a young person's art's education is limited to whatever the teacher can offer in the confines of a classroom, that education is sorely inadequate. I feel so strongly about the value these kinds of experiences have to offer, I volunteer my time and money to make them possible for the kids at Max Hayes.

Unfortunately, the attitude of too many folks in Cleveland seems to be that arts education is a frill. It gets a lot of lip-service but very little funding. Administrators are loathe to fund subject areas that are not a part of state mandated testing.

Field trips are also treated as non-essential activities. Rather than being regarded as important learning experiences, they are given "reward" status, offered only to the "good" students.

Occasionally I'm asked what type of school I would like to see if I could design one from scratch. I haven't thought about most of of details, but I do know I would start with experiential learning as the core. It's missing from most of today's public educational programs, and well, you can see what kind of shape they are in.

I guess you might say I would take the "Magic School Bus" approach to learning. In the words of Miss Frizzle, we need to "Go out, take chances, make mistakes, and get dirty!”

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Summer Project: 1965 Volkswagen Beetle - Part 10

Finally! After nearly 3 months in limbo, the Barney the Blue Beetle is back on the blog.

Tempted as I am to smugly scoff as The Optimist's ambitious September completion date became distant memory, I find that I must rise to his defense instead. It seems the little Bug fell victim to the national economic crisis. Here's the story:

New fenders were ordered from an after market dealer in California way back in August. The dealer paid a trucking company to ship the parts, and then right before the truck was ready to hit the road, the shipping company went out of business. Weeks became months, lawyers and accountants worked out the details, and eventually when the snow began to fly, the fenders found their way to Cleveland.

Tom popped the engine into the Beetle and drove it to a friend's body shop to have it painted. When I stopped by to check out the shiny new coat of Sea Blue, I was surprised to see the fenders were still not on the car, they were sitting behind the driver's seat.

I followed along behind as Tom drove the fender-less little car down St. Claire Avenue back to his shop in Euclid. Thank goodness we didn't cross paths with any of the city's finest, as it seems we'd forgotten the license plates on the dinning room table back at home.

No job is ever simple. Well at least that's my experience - it could have something to do with the blond hair. It took me two trips to Home Depot to get the right size washers to fit the bolts.

Fenders at last!

Next task - Bumpers!
To be continued...
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