Compass Academy is an alternative elementary/middle/high school for students who experience underlying mental health challenges. Marty Meade, a certified Art Therapist who works year-round with Compass Academy, says of her goal is to have the students “connect with the creative process, and to know that it is a safe space to inhabit when they are feeling powerless.”
She expands on their projects over the last semester, explaining: “We have painted with watercolors and acrylics, decorated sugar skulls, and made fused glass pendants and small plates. The students have experimented with marbling paper and some print making as well. We play with concepts like scale, sometimes working big and sometimes in miniature. For some, it’s a process of learning to live with mistakes and let go, and for others it’s a time to slow down.”
Every day brings new adventure, and sometimes new challenges. Students who are new to the class in particular can experience understandable hesitation. Marty explains “I have new students who come in feeling unsure and occasionally defensive. One particular high school student painted a beautiful apple on her first day, but when I complimented her, her response was that she ‘didn’t like art’. I backed off, and as the following weeks went by she became more and more engaged. Her Sugar skull was delicate as was the trinket box that she carefully painted. Last week we did marbling and I gave them straws to blow the paint around in the water. She soon was dropping the dyes into the bubbles and then experimented with dish detergent. On Halloween as they were painting masks I read two stories from Grimm Fairy Tales. She immediately knew the version of Cinderella, and giggled as I read the vivid descriptions of the stepsisters trying on the shoe. All the while, I’m watching the hard-edged woman become a playful child again.”
However, time has had a positive effect on many of her students. Now in his second year, one student has transformed from being disruptive to the class leader. Marty notes that “his art is wonderful, and I’m trying to think of a creative way to gather his images of cats.” Another student, who Marty refers to as “I”, can hardly contain himself during art class and loves making things for his mother. Marty builds on these experiences to help students think about who they are and how their work might reflect their character, beliefs, and values. During the trinket box project, Marty brought in uncut rocks with opals inside and asked everyone to pick a stone that they felt reflected them most. She adds, “They were all very careful as they examined the stones.”
Marty credits her time in the classroom to the collaboration of the Marin County Office of Education and Youth in Arts. She is grateful for the opportunity to be with the children for the entire school year, and adds: “It has made such a difference in my relationship to the students.”
Thank you to the contract from the Kennedy Center and the funders who helped to make this happen:
At Willow Creek Academy and Short Elementary School, Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman worked with students to make wonderful collages using textures of different shapes and colors. Many students in special day classrooms experience sensory defensiveness, so Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal developed this as one technique to address this issue. Joyal explains, “For kids with special needs there is so much beyond their control that can be frightening and art is a safe way to take risks. Using textures in art provides children with a safe and fun way to confront potential anxiety around new experiences.”
Cathy describes the process, “Instead of glue, we used self-stick paper to hold down our shapes. We had to use at least five different shapes and colors. We felt each piece carefully before we placed it on our collage. Some shapes were rough and bumpy, while others were smooth or shiny. The soft feathers were especially fun! After pressing down our shapes we drew around them or on top of them with oil pastels. It felt unfamiliar to draw directly on the sticky paper. The final step was rubbing on the magic gold foil. It was hard to wait for the shiny foil but we did. We finished with a group discussion reflecting on the choices we made. It was a good chance to practice our speaking and listening skills”
The program was part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us program, which serves students in special day and severely handicapped classes throughout Marin County. Thank you to the contract from the Kennedy Center and the funders who helped to make this happen:
By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman
For the past year, Oak Hill students have been exploring painting and sculpture. We ended the year with a student exhibit that featured several exciting projects. The display featured masks, paintings, drawings and two collaborative works based on the number paintings of artist Jasper Johns. It was important for students to get a chance to survey their own work as well as the art made by their friends. It was hard not to touch the art!
One of the projects the students liked best was using tape to separate space on pieces of canvas. The artists applied oil pastels and paint; once dry, they removed the tape. Some students enjoyed pulling off the tape more than painting! There were surprises of color and lines everywhere, and decisions to be made about whether to leave parts of the canvas bare. We finished off the project by using letter stencils. The artists were very creative and used the stencils randomly, rather than spelling out recognizable words or names.
Another popular project was making sculptures based on the work of Alberto Giacometti. Students began by making wire forms and then covering them with foil and clay. Once the clay dried, the sculptures were painted. Some students made human forms while others created animals.
Written by Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman
This spring, students in two special day classes at Venetia Valley Elementary School explored different tools and materials. Artists experimented with a variety of adaptive tools for making marks: wide handled brushes, sea sponges, rollers, balls and soft toys. These tools were easier to grip than a thin paintbrush or pencil and allowed students a lot of control in how they painted. For many projects, they also worked on heavy mat board instead of paper. We also explored texture, using sticky contact paper as a canvas on which to apply various papers and materials. Using black paper, color and white paint students practiced layering colors.
The last two weeks of the class focused on making collages inspired by the work of artist Louise Nevelson. Students spent one class choosing and gluing down various forms and shapes that included Lincoln Logs, CDs, bottle caps, slides and other materials. Next, they added paint, which posed a new set of challenges as students turned and moved their artworks to paint various surfaces and angles. Once the objects were painted, the meaning behind them changed. Slides became obscured; CDs less shiny. Lincoln log pieces became exciting sculptural elements!
by YIA Mentor Artist Cynthia Pepper
What a wonderful day we had with the Terra Linda Special Day Classes led by Rachel and Abby. We had 9 adults assisting the 12 students on the final sharing day of my residency last week. I thought it would be nice to start our day off with a warm up to Bob Marley. The man! He cuts to the chase with his lyrics of “Is it love?”. It must be love because everyone was smiling while we moved all our bodies in unison to get ready for the big dance called KUKU. It is from Guinea West Africa and it involves fishing with nets, sharing our catch, becoming fishes and having a full on party at the end. The African based cultural dance day eased in with our sharing of energy around the room both in clockwise and counter clockwise directions. We cleaned up the day with Keb Mo and Michael Jackson and my all time favorite get funky dance song “Green Onions” by Booker T. and The M.G.’s. It just takes it away. The paras and the aides all danced a solo in the middle of the room which they all accomplished with flair. Each wheelchair got a pirouette opportunity and the students crushed it with smiles. I love sharing with so many students the joy of movement and music. It seems like it keeps getting better the more we do it. Each time feels better than the next.
Students at the Short School in San Rafael experimented with paint, paper and various materials as part of a grant from the Kennedy Center. Using a lesson plan titled “Motivated to Create … HARMONY,” Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman helped students translate jazz into paint.
The purpose of the lesson was to give students the experience of drawing on the inspiration of sounds as a foundation for their art. Working individually and in pairs, they listened to excerpts from “West Side Story” by composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Key vocabulary artists reviewed included “harmony,” “tone” and “abstract.” Using tempera paint, paper and canvas they listened, and painted what they heard. We considered how sound affects our feelings. Students were given an array of materials to use, including toothbrushes, corks, rollers, plastic packing material and forks. They practiced making marks, covering marks and making more marks. Working together was a good lesson in collaboration and respect … Is it ok to cover another artists’ marks?
Working in pairs allowed students to create multiple layers of color.
In the final session artists were given an 18 by 24 inch canvas. They tore up their smaller works on paper and reassembled the pieces into a collage on the canvas. They applied more paint and color while listening to music. Working outside for the final painting freed the young artists to move in ways that can’t happen in a carpeted classroom.
The last artist to work on the painting added a tiny touch of black, noting that she was thinking about her favorite fruit – blackberries. Can you find her mark?
Inspired by the paintings of artist Jasper Johns, students at Oak Hill school created their own numerical works of art. Using large stencils made by Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, they traced numbers 0 through 9. Nearly 30 students worked on the collaborative project. Some created a single number, while others made several. In the end there were 70 numbers – 7 sets of 0 through 9.
Students enjoyed working with a familiar subject matter, and the straight and curved sides of the stencils gave them a solid framework for drawing. Once the numbers were stenciled onto watercolor paper, they used oil pastels and watercolors to explore pattern, color and shape. They were encouraged to look at the entire page and decide where to apply the pastel, knowing that the pastel would “resist” the watercolor that came later. Some students worked entirely with pastels, giving their numbers bright, bold lines and shapes. Others used mostly paint, preferring to create numbers with soft edges. The project was a wonderful opportunity for young artists to experiment with unfamiliar materials, including water-soluble graphite. For some, it was a chance to practice touching and using pastels that were freed long ago from their paper sleeves. The pebbled surface of the heavy watercolor paper was a satisfying and sturdy surface on which to create. The project was also a chance for artists to practice thoughtful watercolor techniques and gentle brush motion.
When the paintings were finished, we looked at the stencils. After being handled, touched and scribbled on by numerous students, the stencils had become works of art. With each mark and splotch of paint that remained, the numbers told a story far beyond what ended up on paper.
Thank you to the following for helping to make this program happen:
By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman
Artists at Oak Hill School have explored color in various ways this year. During a recent project, students arranged paint chips in a composition and then applied black ink on or around each rectangle using sticks, brushes or fingertips. The project gave students a chance to experiment with non traditional implements for applying color. They also considered how colors behave differently depending on how they are combined and arranged. The flat, matte surface of the paint chips worked especially well for this project.
Oak Hill serves students with autism and other learning differences. For the final project of the year, artists worked on a collaborative mural using a large canvas tarp. Again, students experimented with different ways of applying paint – double brushes, foam brushes, rollers and a spray bottle. They also explored how painting changes depending on the amount of pressure applied and paint used. Some artists used light brushstrokes that were repeated in a loose pattern; others preferred to apply large areas of saturated color. A spray bottle filled with color allowed artists to wet the paint until it dripped to the ground. The size of the tarp and the freedom to work outside in the sunshine allowed students to paint on a much larger scale. We talked about how painting while standing up feels different from painting while sitting at a desk.
Youth in Arts is grateful to Marin Charitable for helping to support this project.
Mentor Artist Cynthia Pepper taught dance in Mimi Schalich’s Special Day class at Edna McGuire Elementary School. She brought fun, energetic music and tons of cool stuff to her classes.
“We prepared for our performance date by practicing using scarves respectfully, we danced on the dots in all sorts of ways, we did helicopter, we did hand holding dances, we created shapes, we hopped and moved our legs in new ways. We did stretching and sort of a yoga thing! Parents joined us on our final day, and danced with their children. My work with this population has been an experience that I will forever hold dear in my life.”
by Mentor Artist Katie Issel Pitre
This year I had the joy of joining Youth In Arts’ roster and getting placement at Edna Maguire in Mill Valley, and Olive Elementary in Novato.
I was placed in three Special Day Classrooms: a K-5 classroom, and two 2nd-5th grade classrooms. I used my music background to create music classes for these students and teachers.
After an observation visit, I chose my songs based on students’ prior knowledge of songs and their interests. I was able to use the same songs for all classes. I created a felt board and felt images of objects mentioned in each song that were tactile and stimulating for students to touch.
These boards were the most notable aspect of this class, as they were created specifically for these students and to engage their senses, develop social/emotional skills, utilize fine motor skills and provide opportunity to use language skills to identify objects and name objects.
Watching students engage not only with the felt boards, but also with the drums, shakers and songs, I was able to access multiple intelligences that accessed the whole student. Over time, my relationship with them deepened and I was able to support their development in closer alignment with their teachers goals. It became clear that my weekly presence was having an impact, that relationships on many levels were being built and that IEP goals were being reached to everyone’s satisfaction.
The unspoken link in the chain is supportive teachers who are open, participating, engaged, and communicating with me weekly to maintain standards and fulfill the residency goals. If it were not for the teachers modeling relationships with me and the music, the students wouldn’t have had such rapid growth and such deep success.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity to teach music to these students and with these teachers, and hope to have many more opportunities to share and play in music.
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