Sara E. Thomas
I teach visual art at High School in the Community (HSC), a small urban magnet school. HSC is a unique teaching environment because we are a teacher-run school. This means that we do not have the administrative hierarchy of a typical public school. We are run by a "teacher democracy" where the body of teachers elects a facilitator, a student membership coordinator and two officers to run the office. Teachers at HSC fill all of these positions. Each position with the exception of the facilitator includes regular classroom teaching. This benefits the entire school because all of the people holding administrative positions have been elected to those positions and are still active in the classroom, unlike in most public schools. Each teacher plays an integral role in the operation of the school. We are all encouraged to create our own curriculum in alignment with both the Connecticut and New Haven teaching standards. I have a large amount of freedom to design my courses so I try to create courses which will engage my students, integrate with other subjects and relate to their lives personally.
HSC is a magnet school serving three hundred and fifty students. Two-thirds of the students are from New Haven and are selected through a lottery process. The other third of our population are students from surrounding suburban areas who choose to come to HSC instead of attending their local public high school. This selection process creates an extremely diverse community of students from a variety of different backgrounds. In our school the student population is roughly one-third white, one-third black and one-third Latino. This racial diversity is a large part of the reason that I am interested in the idea of identity and how identity is formed, because my students are very diverse and I would like them to be able to appreciate their differences but also see that they have many similarities connecting them. A majority of the two-thirds from New Haven are in a low socio-economic class, while many of the suburban students are from middle class families. Their parents are attracted to HSC because of its small size. They feel that students will be more easily accepted and will receive more one-on-one instruction. Each individual brings an extremely different set of experiences with him or her, creating a wonderful and sometimes challenging classroom environment.
Students attending HSC are required to take one full credit of art (some combination of visual art and music). This requirement sends many students through my door and finding a way to reach them all and keep them interested is one of my favorite challenges. Along with a diverse population there is a staggering imbalance in their art knowledge. Some of the students have a strong art background, while others have not had art for over three years. This occurs as the result of students filtering in from many different school districts with different requirements for their students. It forces me to teach the basic elements and principles of design while also making things interesting to those students for whom they are review. In teaching high school it is imperative to teach through subjects that are interesting to your students. This can be challenging with art because they often have a very limited definition of art. Usually they associate art simply with "fine art", or art which is hung in a museum. One of my main goals is to help students create their own personal definition of art. Through this unit I would like to broaden students' idea of what is successful art, while also teaching them about themselves.
This unit will be designed for an introductory art class which meets an entire semester, four days per week for an hour each day. The unit is designed to take the entire semester. It is written for a class including students from both ninth and tenth grade as their first art class at HSC. Because of the content this unit could easily be adapted to fit an eighth through twelfth grade curriculum.