Friday, December 30, 2022

WHS art program prepares students for creative futures

By Masha Yurkevich

In today’s world, career options have expanded to just about anything and everything and at Windham High School, the art program is helping students to see their full potential and rise in whatever they choose to do in the art world.

Great Paulding works on a painting during
an art class taught by Jeffrey Bell at
Windham High School. 
The three art teachers at WHS, Joseph McLaughlin, Jeffery Bell and Alisa James, work hard to help their students aim for the stars.

McLaughlin teaches two-dimensional studio art courses, including Painting I and II, Drawing I and II, Printmaking, and Street Art. He also helps students in developing art portfolios and in preparing for college.

As the department head, it is his responsibility for representing the visual and performing arts teachers in school-wide matters. He has been teaching art for 20 years, including nine years at WHS.

“I love working with young artists as they explore new subject matter, techniques, and their own artistic processes,” says McLaughlin. “I really enjoy seeing their life experiences and perspectives expressed through their artwork. Another great part of the job is witnessing them gain confidence and establishing a voice. They also inspire and motivate me in my own artwork.”

Since McLaughlin arrived, the digital art program has flourished under James. There are now two sections of Bell's AP/advanced art instead of one. McLaughlin has also designed a Street Art course which now runs each semester.

Elyzabeth (Libbi) Pike is a senior at WHS and has taken Digital Art I and II as well as Street Art and Advanced Art throughout her high school career. She originally took Digital Art 1 because she needed an art credit, but after taking it, she realized that she genuinely enjoys digital and graphic arts.

“I took Digital Art II since I liked the first class so much and then learning all the new types of stuff in that class is what made me try for Advanced Art,” says Pike. “Since I want to go to art school, I thought Advanced Art would be a good experience for me. As for Street Art, I wanted to do it as a fun, creative element. I wanted to broaden out my artistic abilities.”

James is the Media Arts teacher and teaches Photography I and II, Digital Art and Design I and II and Film Making. Prior to teaching at WHS, James also taught at Sacopee Valley High School for four years as well as teaching Saturday School at the Maine College of Art — a program for high school students, where she taught Photography. All in all, she has taught art for about 15 years, and this is her fifth year at WHS.

“I have not been at WHS for very long, and much of the time has been affected by COVID,” says James. “Windham has always had a strong art program and I am happy to be a part of it! All the changes I have seen, have been continued, amazing growth.”

New equipment

James has added a lot of new equipment to the media program, including a large format printer, DSLRs and Photoshop.

“I love seeing kids realize their own potential. Because I teach an art form that is created using digital media and cameras, many kids who never knew they were artists find their voice,” she says. “That is the best. I love helping students understand how to communicate their own ideas visually.”

James does a practical logo project in her Digital Art and Design II class where students create a logo for someone in the community. The current SACC (Student Aged Child Care) logo was created by one of her students, Libbi Pike, and is the current logo.

Allona Popov has taken a variety of art programs during her high school years, including Painting I, Painting II, Photography, Digital Art, Advanced Art, Photography II, Ceramics II, Printmaking, AP Art.

“At the beginning of my high school career I didn't know what kind of person I was, or what was I good at,” says Popov. “The main question for me was: what classes do I take to get a good and sustainable job after graduation? I began to take different electives and I loved all of the experience that I got from all of those classes, but I never felt like it was something that I would be able to do for the rest of my life.”

In her junior year she decided to take Painting I, and something clicked.

“The atmosphere that Mr. Mclaughlin created in the art room, felt like home,” Popov says. “I was drawn to that room. I felt inspired, open to exploration, free, and supported by my friends. It is such a privilege that we have three art teachers.”

As a senior of WHS now, she continues to take art classes in preparation for what she plans to do in the future.

Bell has been an art teacher at WHS for 36 years and teaches fine arts studio classes that includes sculpture, ceramics, Advanced Art and Advanced Placement Studio Art. In addition to teaching at WHS, he has also been an adjunct teacher at Southern Maine Community College for over 12 years and as of three years ago, left that position to become an adjunct professor at USM where he teaches ceramics year-round.

He also teaches a summer class at USM for young artists called “ArtLab,” where he helps train the art education majors to become art educators.

Class offerings

“I think the art programs have changed quite a bit over the years,” said Bell. “Our class offerings have really expanded through the years, bringing in many new classes to include AP Studio Art, Digital Art, Street Art among many other upper-level offerings like Painting II and Ceramics II. I have also had firsthand experience in hiring some of the most talented and child-centered art teachers in the state who love what they do both as studio artists and teachers, and very committed to inspiring young people to find their passions in life.”

Like the other art teachers, Bell has had students enter many contests in the past. One in particular was through the Maine Region Scholastic Arts Award where one of his students won the Silver Key Medal in the Congressional Art Competition and had their work hung in the Halls of Congress. Another award was given at the Maine Student Film and Video Festival in Waterville when he was teaching the Video Production class. His video students entered and won the Jurors Awards (second place) for best short video.

“I personally think both the visually and performing arts should be at the core of our academics at the high school just like English, Math and Science,” says Bell. “The arts are fundamental to truly learning what it is to be human. It develops our creative and problem-solving abilities, fosters true respect for one another’s uniqueness and gives us a way to process who we are in the world.”

James sees how important their classes are for kids at WHS.

“It gives them a true chance to explore their own identity and skill. It also provides an environment that is void of right and wrong answers.”

All the art classes are 100 percent project based and hands-on; many of the students need that in their day,” she said. “I love teaching an art form that is also a very lucrative profession. I feel that I am helping some students find a career interest. Many of my students go on to be Digital Communications majors or minors and I am seeing a growing interest in kids seeking a creative career.”

McLaughlin’s hope is that students develop art skills as well as interpersonal skills, which will serve them well beyond high school.

“Regarding their artistic processes, I want them to take risks and work outside their comfort zones. I also want them to be able to view and respond to art intelligently,” he says.

For Bell, he wants to get the message across to his students not to accept mediocrity.

“Instead, strive to become loving, accepting and intelligent individuals who want to go out into the world and explore everything they can,” he says. “Life is short and so precious.” <

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