When I first walked through the doors of Thompson Valley High School, I noticed it was not the same as most schools I had been to. There was something much more relaxed and natural about the environment. Our first week involved meeting with the principal and assistant principals and discussing with our professor from Colorado State University, Heidi, what we will be looking for and expected to contribute to the school.
The mission of Thompson Valley School District is to empower to learn, challenge to achieve, and inspire to excel. The students are 78% white, 17% hispanic, 1.1% Native American, 1% Asian, and .37% African American. There around about 430 on free and reduced lunch. About 80% of students graduate in four years. Thus, when looking at demographics, this school is more diverse than many other schools in the surrounding areas.
The administration explained several programs that were in place to help students. Thompson Valley has AP classes, 30 sports teams, 20 clubs, and accelerated college programs like ASCENT. There is also a period called Advisory where students meet with a homeroom teacher and work on developing interests in careers, writing resumes, deciding on what colleges interest them, and other activities to help with their future academic decisions.
When administration was describing the school, the couple words that kept coming up were diversity, support, and involvement. Many schools say those words would apply to them, but when the students talk about their school it is usually a different story. However, every student we talked to mentioned how they all support each other, how there is more diversity at Thompson Valley compared to different schools, and how the teachers treat them like adults so they enjoy being involved with the school. It was surprising to hear that both the administration and students agreed. I was very excited to begin working with such a supportive and relaxed environment.
The following week was our first time in the classroom. I was placed in Mrs. Robison’s sculpture class. The first project the students worked on was a fountain made out of clay. The fountains could have whatever concept the student wanted. There was a variety of different works; no two really looked the same. The biggest thing I noticed about the class was how independent they were compared to other classes I have visited. Each student really knew what they were supposed to be working on each class and had their own visions in mind. Also, students chose to be in this class and were required to take an introduction art class prior to this one, so students were interested and experienced in art. Mrs. Robinson would start off class by checking in to see where everyone was at and show interesting works of art that were related to the project. After that, students would get the supplies they need and start working.
The students all seem to know the technical skills in building with clay, except throwing on the wheel was a new concept, so they are generally all new to that skill. There are a wide variety of interests in the class, there are some students who are athletes, some interested in agriculture, some about art, and some about nature. Certain styles and interests came out in the work of the artist, and solidified after talking to them. Since clay takes a long time to work with, there are few projects because a lot of time is required to build, fire, and glaze the pieces.
When students are finished with their art work, they turn in their work with a written statement about the intention and process of their art work. This helps students explain their thought process while they were creating art works. They also have class critiques at the end of their project, which I have not yet observed.
The second project their class did is creating tea pot sets. Many of them started the ideation process by looking up contemporary artists and sketching out their ideas. Some of them used references, and some of them completely came up with their own ideas. They all had a lot of time to plan out their projects and practice technical skills like throwing on the wheel before turning in their project.
Overall, the class environment was very independent and laid back. Students knew their environment and enjoyed the creation process because they had time to develop and build their projects.
Since we get to teach two lessons in 450, we will be teaching shorter technical lessons. Because the projects take weeks to complete because of the medium, we cannot teach a new lesson or concept, but techniques that will help with decoration of their current projects. I will be co-teaching with a fellow 450 classmate and we will be finding contemporary examples and teaching new techniques to the students. We will start class with a quick slide show and then demonstrate how to do the technique. This will give students more options to decorate their tea pots. They will have the majority of the class to create their art work.
I have really enjoyed my time at Thompson Valley High School and have learned a lot about how to manage a very independent classroom. While there are certain end products, it is important to let students come up with their own ideas and themes in their work so that it is relevant to them. High schoolers and independent thinkers and respect being treated as the capable adults that they are, so it has been great to see an example of how to run a classroom like that.
I hope if I end up teaching an older age group that they work as independently and are as self motivated as the students in Mrs. Robinson’s sculpture class.