Garnet Fourth-Graders Open Exhibit Dec. 4-9 at WC’s Kohl Gallery

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A whole new kind of exhibit opened at Washington College’s Kohl Gallery this week, when local fourth-graders invited their families to see their work on display in Gibson Center for the Arts. The exhibit, “Artworks by Fourth Grade Students at Henry Highland Garnet Elementary, inspired by the collage works of Jo Smail,” will be up Dec. 4-9 in conjunction with the final week of “Clippings, Voids & Banana Curry,” featuring work by Smail, who teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

At the exhibit opening on Tuesday, Dec. 4, students and their families joined Julie Wills, assistant professor of studio art and Kohl Gallery’s interim director, Benjamin Tilghman, assistant professor of art history, and Sara Clarke-Vivier, assistant professor of education, for a reception and showing. Students excitedly pointed out their work for their moms, dads, and siblings, posing for photos and snacking on cookies and veggies.

“This is really exciting,” Tony Hicks, whose daughter Seiauna Thompson showed her work to her family. “It’s awesome.”

Seiauna Thompson shows her work to her father, Tony Hicks, while her little sister Takayla Hicks, watches.

The exhibit is the result of a collaboration between Clarke-Vivier, Tilghman, and Garnet teachers that began last year, when two classes from the second and third grades came to Kohl Gallery to create art in response to an exhibition of works inspired by Islamic art. This year, the entire fourth-grade art class—45 students—studied Smail’s collage art, which addresses the racism and social violence she witnessed as a child in South Africa through collages that combine family recipes with newspaper clippings and other material.

Students learned about Smail’s art in class, then traveled to the Kohl Gallery to see it in person and engage in a conversation facilitated by Tilghman. Then, Clarke-Vivier and several Washington College students, some of them majoring in art or education, helped the students create their collages using their own family recipes, assorted newspaper clippings from the present day, and other materials.

Clarke-Vivier and Tilghman, whose children attend Garnet, came up with the concept to help to bring more art into the lives of local kids, and to bring them to the campus and introduce them to the Kohl Gallery—for some, one of their first art museum experiences. Clarke-Vivier also wants to give her students a hands-on opportunity to see the challenges and rewards of teaching in an informal education environment, such as a museum. And together, as parents and as College faculty members, they wanted to show direct support for Kent County schools.

“We want them to know that both art and the College are available to them, and they are there for everyone, and they can have both those experiences here,” Clarke-Vivier says. “We reinforce to students that it’s free and it’s open and they can bring their families back.”

WC students Noah Smith ’22, Holly Shaffer ’21 and Anna Watts ’19 (center) help the fourth-graders with their collages.

Both professors have backgrounds in museum-related work. Clarke-Vivier’s research relates to school-museum partnerships for learning (some of this research led her to help create a new cultural museum in Belize.) Tilghman worked at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore for four years, and worked in children’s museums throughout high school—a touchstone for his understanding of museums as welcoming, joyful places.

“That has always been a part of how I think about museums, that it’s not just a repository for old beautiful things you can’t touch, but that it should be flexible and lively,” he says. He and Wills hope projects like this will broaden the purpose and popularity of Kohl Gallery.

“One of the barriers to entry to museums is people think they are stuffy places,” Clarke-Vivier says. “We want [students] to know they can talk, and ask questions, and interact, it’s not like a library where they have to be quiet. And those preconditions allow for pleasurable learning experiences related to art. That’s really important too, to helping people feel like it’s something for them.”

Clarke-Vivier says the project is already yielding results that she and Tilghman had hoped in terms of forming new bonds between the College and Garnet.

“Now when I walk to Garnet there are kids who are like, ‘Dr. C-V, from the art museum! Hey, remember me?’ They’ve made a connection with us as part of the people they know in their existing community at Garnet, but also transition people between the College and the school,” she says. “I think there’s something really important about that in terms of creating this sense of accessibility.”

KCHS Seasonal Sensations Dinner and Silent Auction Dec. 12

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On Wednesday, December 12th at 6:00 pm, the Kent County High School Music and Culinary Arts Program presents the 11th Annual Seasonal Sensations Dinner, Concert and Silent Auction at the Kent County High School Cafeteria. Enjoy a meal prepared by very skilled Kent County High School Culinary Arts students while seasonal music selections are performed by our talented KCHS Jazz Band and Chorus students. Purchase your tickets early, seating is limited! Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children under the age of 12.  Tickets can be picked up at the door the evening of the event. Please R.S.V.P. to Marlayn at marlayn@atlanticbb.net.

S.O.S. Comes to Rescue Kent County Public Schools with Jodi Bortz

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While there has always been a history of community activism and concern about the Kent County Public Schools including such groups as the PTA and those trying to fight off school consolidation a few years ago, the recent emergence of S.O.S., a.k.a. Support Our Schools is entirely different in many ways.

This small, informal friends group that grew out of parental concern about the financial capacity of the KCPS system has now emerged as a real force in holding elected officials accountable for the votes they cast, or don’t, to subsidize Kent County public schools beyond the mandatory “maintenance of effort” budget requirements set by the State of Maryland.

S.O.S. also represents a new era of local leadership. A new generation of young parents, well-versed in business management, social media, and marketing, have come to the fold to fight these battles.

One of those new leaders is Jodi Bortz, the owner of Blue Canary Letterpress, the mother of two KCPS children, and a graduate of Kent County High School. The Spy talked to her at Spy HQ last week to talk about the S.O.S.mission and its concern of the long-term sustainability of its public school system.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about S.O.S. please go here

Noted Author Will Highlight One School/One Book Program in Kent County Public Schools

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Wil Haygood – author of Tigerland: 1968-1969

Wil Haygood’s new book Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing, which will be released September 15 but is already receiving glowing reviews, will be the centerpiece of a Kent County Public Schools program this fall. The program—One School/One Book—seeks to provide every student in grades 8 through 12 with a personal copy to read in advance of meeting with the author. Haygood, who finished the book as a writing fellow at Washington College, will participate in Meet the Author events at the Kent County middle and high school on November 14th, meeting with both students and staff. He will also participate in an event that evening open to the entire community.

The book is especially relevant and inspirational for secondary school students, because it tells the true story of a segregated black high school in Columbus, Ohio, during the heights of the 1960’s civil rights movement. Against all odds, in a single year the school produced state championship teams (the Tigers) in both basketball and baseball as well as a highly acclaimed debate team. The book describes that effort in exciting detail, including profiling the coaches, teachers, and school principal who helped make it possible and Eddie “Rat” Ratleff, the star of both winning teams, who would go on to play for the 1972 U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Haygood is a cultural historian and an award-winning author of seven nonfiction books, including a book that led to the 2013 film The Butler (which he co-produced) about Eugene Allen, the African American butler who served eight U.S. Presidents (from Truman to Reagan) in the White House. Haygood, who grew up in Columbus and remembers watching the events chronicled in Tigerland, has said he is excited to participate in the One School/One Book program here, because he believes there are parallels between Kent County and the story told in the book.

According to KCPS Superintendent Karen Couch, student and community involvement intensify when a whole school reads a book together. Tigerland’s publisher has agreed to make the book available for half price for this program. The school system is seeking donations to raise $10,000 to ensure every child in the relevant grades and each of their teachers receives a copy of the book. Donations can be made to the Kent County Public Schools Special Projects Fund, c/o Chesapeake Charities, 101 Log Canoe Circle, Suite O, Stevensville, MD 21666, or on-line at www.chesapeakecharities.org/fund/kent-county-public-schools-special-projects/.

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Hard Talk: Residents Press County Commissioners to Increase School Budget

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Residents crowded the Kent County Commissioners’ hearing room Tuesday, June 5, to weigh in on the county’s proposed budget. The discussion grew heated as many of the crowd registered their disappointment with the education portion of the budget, which fell short by approximately $600,000 of the school district’s funding requests.

The above video contains most of the public comments made by audience members after the budget presentation.  Each person wanting to speak had to sign up at the beginning of the meeting.  Each was limited to three minutes and a loud buzzer indicated when the three minutes had expired.  Speakers were held fairly strictly to the limit.

The budget portion of the meeting began with Pat Merritt, the county’s chief financial officer, giving an overview of the budget’s provisions. With help of a PowerPoint presentation. Merritt showed that 65 percent of the county’s revenue, nearly $31 million, derives from property taxes. Another 28 percent, or nearly $13 million, comes from income tax. With over 93 percent of the revenues tax-based, Merritt said, the only way to increase revenue is to raise taxes.

Merritt went on to say that Kent County’s property tax rate, at $1.022 per $100 assessed value, is second highest on the Shore and seventh in the state. The income tax, at 2.85 percent, is fifth highest on the Shore and 16th in the state. Raising the income tax rate to the maximum allowed by law would produce another $3.3 million, she said. Meanwhile, growth over the last five years has been essentially flat, with property tax revenues up by some $700,000 and income tax down by roughly the same amount.

In response to the flat revenues, the county has taken steps to reduce its expenditure, including retiring $21.5 million in debt, roughly 52 percent of the total owed. It has also reduced its insurance costs by joining the Local Government Insurance Trust, and it plans to reduce vehicle costs by moving to a lease plan instead of owning its vehicles outright – a plan that will also reduce the age of the county’s fleet, Merritt said. Several departments have undergone cuts, including a $238,000 cut for county roads, $215,000 cut for parks and recreation, and nearly $100,000 less for information systems, and a number of positions have been cut. In addition to these steps, the county has taken important steps to encourage economic development, which in the long run will add to its tax base.

Addressing specific portions of the budget, Merritt paid particular attention to the allocations for education. The county allocates 38 percent of its budget to the school system, compared to 45.6 percent statewide. The FY 2019 budget for education, at $17,194,263, represents an increase of $228,000 over FY 2018 and is $303,000 over the maintenance of effort standard required by law. Over the last 10 years, the county has spent $2.2 million more than maintenance of effort, while the student population has declined by 216 and there are three fewer schools, she said.

Pat Merritt, the county’s chief financial officer, presented an overview of the proposed FY 2019 Budget for Kent County

The school district’s fund balance – in essence, a sort of “rainy day fund” – has been cut back over the last few years, and a further reduction of $695,000 is scheduled for this year, Merritt said. That would leave the schools with $605,000, which is more than $100,000 above a target amount set by the county for the fund balance. The commissioners argued that no other county department maintains a fund balance. They said that with the increase of $228,000 over the FY 2018 budget, the schools will receive more than $900,000 more than last year. In addition, a request for $423,000 for capital projects was fully funded, Merritt said.

In summary, Merritt said, the FY 2019 budget focuses on economic development, increases the operating funding for the schools, fully funds the schools’ capital projects, and provides resources for reducing ambulance transportation costs in the county.

Kent County Commissioners in session Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Following Merritt’s presentation, the commissioners opened the floor to public comment. First to speak was Dr. Karen Couch, superintendent of education for the county. She began by thanking the commissioners for their support of programs including laptops for all students, building repairs, and refurbishing the football field at Kent County High School. The FY 2019 budget presented by the school district was well-thought-out, she said. However, while the district has “made great strides” in addressing salary inequities, it needs more to become competitive and retain staff. Teacher salaries rank 22nd in the state, and administrator salaries are 24 – “dead last.” With shortages of teachers and administrators, the district is at a disadvantage in competing with neighboring counties.

The maintenance of effort standard was created to assure continuity from one year to the next, not as a ceiling, she said, and it does not address inflation, rising costs, or new programs. Combined with declining enrollment, it becomes “a prescription for disaster,” she said. She said the system has reduced positions in order to maintain salary and benefits for its staff. But the county ranks last in the state in per-capita expenditure per student, and keeping the schools on their path to excellence requires continued investment. In closing, Couch said that the schools must be considered an investment, not an expense, to the county’s budget.

Kurt Landgraf, president of Washington College; and Karen Couch, Superintendent of Kent County Schools.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Washington College President Kurt Landgraf said that looking at maintenance of effort in an environment of declining enrollment would put the county in a downward spiral, losing teachers and undercutting the economic base. He said the college was finding it increasingly difficult to attract faculty and staff to come live in the county. He said that Couch’s request for an additional $500,000 was well thought through, and would increase both the schools’ viability and the ability to attract more people to the county.

Rebecca Heriz-Smith, parent and member of SOS (Save Our Schools)      Photo by Jane Jewell

Rebecca Heriz-Smith was one of several members of the Support Our Schools (SOS) coalition to address the meeting. She noted that the education budget includes an increase of $15,000 to Chesapeake College, while the amount actually going to the county’s public schools is $13,000 less than last year, and $636,000 less than was actually requested. She said it is becoming clear that social workers and counselors are needed in schools all across the country. She said the district had already cut needed programs as well as both teaching and staff positions and would now be forced to cut more under the current budget. She said she was going to vote against the incumbent commissioners in the fall election and would urge her friends and neighbors to do the same.

Jim Luff, former chairman of the county’s economic development commission, said the commission had recommended supporting Kent Forward in its goals to make the school system one of the top five in the state, and that the county’s comprehensive plan said that county should strive to have the best school system in the state. He noted the many stories about families not wanting to move to the county because of the schools and made the link between economic development and the quality of the schools. While the commissioners frequently expressed their support for the schools during their meetings, Luff said the budget actually showed “an erosion of that support.” He said the county needs to find a solution to the problem, noting how residents have come together on the hospital and bridge issues. “We cannot afford to lose one more family,” he said in conclusion.

Deryn Tilghman, a Garnett Elementary School Parent, spoke of volunteering with a third-grade class her child is in. She said her family moved here a year ago, despite being told by colleagues at Washington College that the schools had a poor reputation. She said the family was proud to be part of the public school system, and had given many hours of volunteer work worth thousands of dollars. ‘We decided to see for ourselves, and I’m so glad we were lucky enough to meet some incredibly smart, passionate people on our very first visit to our public school.” She said they saw a lot of potential in the schools, but “potential won’t do.” She said she had hoped to see an indication of support, but “I just keep hearing adversity.” She expressed hope that the commissioners would live up to some of the ideas expressed at the meeting, going for collaboration rather than bemoaning expenses. “It’s the only way we can live up to some of this potential,” she said.

Gina Jachimowicz
Director of Teaching and Learning for Kent County Public Schools

Nathan Stroyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nathan Shroyer of Quaker Neck told of having two properties he bought to create affordable housing, one on High Street and one in Church Hill. He said that when he put them on the market, the one in Church Hill received more than 20 responses, most of them from Kent County parents looking to establish a Queen Anne’s base so their students could qualify for that county’s schools. There were no responses for the High Street property in Chestertown. He said several of the parents spoke of racial tensions in the Kent County schools they hoped to avoid in Queen Anne’s.

Another speaker, Tim O’Brien, said there are several property owners who are regularly delinquent in paying their property taxes, many of whom own a large number of properties through shell corporations and now owed cumulative taxes of $100,00 or more for several years. He said the county needs to enforce and penalize these owners so it can collect its full share of taxes.  The commissioners did respond to this by pointing out that legally they cannot just take over private property.  There are strict rules to follow.  When most of these properties became eligible to go up for auction due to unpaid taxes, no one bid on the properties.  Any bidder must pay the back taxes before they can take title to the property.  The properties in question tended to be empty lots or properties in areas that were not very commercially valuable.  Thus the county has trouble recouping the unpaid taxes by selling these properties at auction.

Tim O’Brien spoke about unpaid property taxes – the tax that schools depend upon for their revenue.

Francois Sullivan, parent and member of SOS (Save Our Schools)      Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also speaking for the SOS group were Francoise Sullivan, Jodi Bortz, and Robbi Behr. While they emphasized different points, they all said the proposed budget was inadequate to the schools’ needs. And they repeated Herz-Smith’s warning that residents unhappy with the budget’s allocation for the schools would be watching the commissioners and basing their votes on how they responded to the schools’ financial needs.  Some spoke angrily of feeling misled and betrayed by promises of support from the commissioners that never materialized. Several said that they believed that the commissioners were not doing their jobs as they were elected to do.

All told, nearly twenty residents spoke at the public hearing, all but a few addressing the school portion of the budget. At the end, the commissioners had several comments in response. Commission President William Pickrum said that the budget is “a zero-sum game,” with every increase for one department or program making it necessary to make cuts somewhere else. “Every agency and department wants more,” he said. He said the county has 20,000 residents, only 2,000 of whom are students in the schools, and the budget must address the needs of the whole county. He noted that senior citizens make up a large proportion of the county’s population and that health care and transportation remain crying needs in the county. He said the commissioners had spent a lot of time and energy on the budget, that they didn’t always agree, but they still needed to make the hard decisions. Pickrum also spoke about the need for everyone to keep the discussion civil and to remember that we can disagree without being disagreeable.  He feared that the animosity and harsh language would prevent compromise and solutions from being found.  Several of the audience members who spoke also expressed the desire for those involved to sit down together and try to find mutually acceptable answers to the problems the county and the schools are facing.

Commissioners Ron Fithian and Billy Short also commented. Both referred to posts on social media attacking the commissioners, some of which they said were not only abusive but indecent. Short gave Sullivan a printout of some posts, which she agreed used language that was not acceptable. Short said he stands by the budget as written, and does not intend to make any changes.  Fithian emphasized again that the school system had the large fund balance that they could use for whatever purpose they chose.  He noted that in fall 2017, the schools, in order to save money, had chosen to contract a Baltimore-based company for bus service.  When that didn’t work out, he said, the schools suddenly found the money to buy brand new buses.  They worked with that year’s budget appropriation plus the fund balance to pay for the new buses.  Fithian stressed that the county does not tell the school system how to spend the allocated money or the fund balance.

Following the various speakers, a general discussion developed between the audience and the commissioners with quite a few people speaking passionately about the issue.  The discussion became rather heated points and four or five people made a point of shouting their disapproval and finally walking out in protest.

Kris Hemstetter, principal of Rock Hall Elementary School, gave an impassioned account of almost daily crisis in the schools.

At the very end of the meeting, Kris Hemstetter, principal of Rock Hall Elementary School, gave an impassioned account of the need for social workers in the schools. She told of a student who was “throwing chairs” while the social worker assigned to the school was working at another school, of a room without air conditioning, of having to drive students home to get medication. She urged the commissioners to come spend time in the schools to see “the struggles teachers and students are going through,” to see how hard teachers work and to let students and parents tell them what they need.  She emphasized that there is crisis in the schools on virtually a daily basis.

The commissioners will vote on the budget at their next meeting, June 12. Written comments on the budget will be accepted at the county office, 200 High St., until noon Friday, June 8.

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Just In: Kent County High Listed as One of Maryland’s Best Schools

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Kent County High has just being recognized as one of the best high schools in Maryland. The 2018 National Rankings earned Kent County High School a bronze medal.

Schools are ranked based on their performance on state-required tests and how well they prepare students for college. Read more about how the Best High Schools are ranked here.

Ranked as the 49th Best High School in Maryland and Recognized in National Rankings, higher than all Eastern Shore school’s other than North Caroline High, Snow Hill High and Stephen Decataur High.

Amelia Markosian: The Fun Teacher Becomes Teacher of the Year

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Amelia Markosian, Kent County’s Teacher of the Year, with pictures of planets behind her.   Photo by Jane Jewell

Amelia Markosian, Kent County’s Teacher of the Year, has been teaching science at Kent County Middle School for six years. But her connection to Kent County goes back well before that.

Her parents used to summer in Gregg Neck on the Sassafras River when she was in grade school. She remembers making friends in the neighborhood, visiting the Tea Party Festival, even working on schooner Sultana before its launch. But she returned for good seven years ago, with her teaching certificate in hand, and she soon found work as a long-term substitute at Galena Elementary School. A year later, a job at KCMS opened up – and the rest is history.

Amelia Markosian, on left, Kent County’s Teacher of the Year, with her 6th-grade science class.       Photo by Jane Jewell

The Chestertown Spy visited Markosian for one of her classes Thursday, April 26 – a sixth-grade class with a focus on astronomy. The students were learning about the Moon – its phases, its distance from the Earth, and other basic facts about our closest celestial neighbor.

Markosian grew up in Willow Grove, a Philadelphia suburb, graduating from Upper Moreland High School and continuing her education at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. At the time, McDaniel didn’t offer an education major, so she majored in art with a minor in education – and enough extra credits to qualify for her teaching certificate. After teaching six months at a private school in Pennsylvania, she decided to try her luck in Maryland. She and her husband, Igor Markosian, were high school sweethearts. They now live in Chestertown and Igor commutes to his job in Middletown, Delaware.

You don’t have to watch Markosian at work for long to see why she was chosen Teacher of the Year. She is full of energy, easily engaging her students in discussion, and it’s obvious that she enjoys science. Speaking to the class about the space program and plans for a manned journey to Mars, she radiated enthusiasm. “It’ll be a really big thing,” she said, comparing it to the first manned lunar expedition. “I can’t wait to see the pictures!” She emphasized that the Mars visit would take place in the students’ lifetimes.

The students asked what the next step after Mars would be. “The moons of Jupiter,” she said, but cautioned that it was well in the future.

The students watched a video – “Earth’s Orbit Song” – that presented a wealth of facts about the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon, with a catchy rhythm and bright illustrations. Markosian drew attention to two facts from the video – the fact that the orbits of the celestial bodies are elliptical, and the distance from the Earth to the Moon is large enough for all the other planets in the Solar System to fit between the Earth and the Moon–that’s a long distance!

While much of the class involved the students working with iPads and other high-tech educational tools, Markosian was quick to use lower-tech instructional methods. At one point, she held her hand near her face to illustrate the relative positions of the Earth and Moon. At another point, she sat with several students at a table with bright lights to simulate the Sun, and small rubber balls representing the Earth and Moon. By changing the positions of the rubber balls, the students could see not only the phases of the Moon but the geometry of eclipses. “This is so cool!” said one student.

Kent County Middle School – Mrs. Markosian’s 6th-grade science class Photo by Jane Jewell

That sentiment is one Markosian shares. Asked why she chose science teaching as a career, she said she had taught every subject while substituting at Galena and realized “science was the most fun. I want to be one of the fun teachers,” the ones the students talk about when they get home.

She spoke enthusiastically about her own scientific interests – notably a teachers’ workshop  with NASA at Wallops Island, where she rubbed elbows with space scientists and got to see a launch from “about 300 feet away.” Kent County’s school system, she said, has been wonderful about providing educational opportunities for their teachers. She also told of visiting an active volcano – a cultural tour of Hawaii’s Kilauea, with a Hawaiian tribal chief as her guide. The volcano is a sacred spot in the Hawaiian religion, and visits are strictly regulated, she said.

In addition to her science classes, Markosian also coaches cheerleading and takes part in the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program, in which students are rewarded for good behavior. She also works with the Lamont Company to give the students experience in testing water. In another class, she taught the basics of forensics – showing the students the elements of fingerprints and toothprints to identify “suspects.” The toothprint specimens are collected using candy – which adds to the students’ interest, not surprisingly.

Markosian is taking courses toward her Master’s degree at Wilmington University in Delaware, with an eventual aim of getting certified as a school administrator. That’s a ways in the future, though – for now, she’s thoroughly enjoying her role as “the fun teacher” at Kent County Middle School.

Amelia Markosian, Kent County’s Teacher of the Year, with pictures of planets behind her.   Photo by Jane Jewell

WHEE partnered with Kent County Schools

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Last Fall, WHEE partnered with Kent County Schools, community organizations, and individuals to create the Make a Movement Project, a performance art project about climate change and the effects of heat-trapping gases on our planet. Please check out the video that shows the community’s involvement in the project and events.

WHEE’s Make a Movement project is now creating a parachute with the First Day Friends Meeting of Washington, DC and facilitating leaders to create parachute projects at Salisbury University, in Stamford, Conn., Pomona, NY, Sunderland, Mass., Benga, Malawi, and El Menzel, Morocco.

Inspired by the AIDS quilt, first displayed in 1987 to raise awareness about the disease, the call for Parachutes For The Planet is for individuals and communities to create their own parachute to raise awareness of the effects of climate change and living sustainably. All parachutes will be gathered for an exhibition on the Mall in Washington DC and then toured around the US and internationally. Check out the website for details.

Director of WHEE, Hope Clark, is working with Allen Fawsett, the Chief at the Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Economic Branch who’s team wrote the Paris Agreement and created the archived EPA Student Guide to Global Warming used by the Make a Movement project in Kent County, MD.

Perhaps you know an environmental club or group in your neighborhood who would like to participate? For more information and support contact@wheelbarrowproductions.org

The Beauty of Making a Mosaic with KCHS Students

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There’s a lot of cutting glass this week at Kent County High School. That’s glass, with a “g.”

Throughout the week students have been cutting and gluing pieces of colored glass, mirror, and other material together to complete a complex glass mosaic with the hope of expressing a sense of place in their personal lives and the greater culture and beauty of the natural environment of Kent County.

The 6’ x 10’ mosaic, with a central tree motif with roots and branching limbs, is surrounded by clusters of images symbolizing elements that invigorate life on our part of the Eastern Shore. A blue crab, the white sails of Sultana, a winding river are just a few of the images that appear in the glinting formation.

“The roots of the tree represent our rich past, and the branches express our sense of all the possibilities life offers,” Spencer said.

The project idea was discussed two years ago by KCHS Fine Arts Department Chair and Visual Arts Teacher Stephanie Spencer and art advocate Tom McHugh during a period when the school system was enduring systemic changes in the county and looking for programs to underscore the positive. Never losing sight of wanting the project to happen, Spencer sought and received a state grant to cover half the cost. Along with fundraising help from Sultana’s “Evening With the Arts” and other school groups, the mosaic was finally greenlighted.

Sue Stockman and Stephanie Spencer and students

Spencer looked to practicing artist and arts advocate Sue Stockman to oversee the project. Stockman, an accomplished artist in her own right, has overseen over two-dozen mosaic projects throughout the state from Baltimore’s inner city to rural Talbot County and St. Michaels high schools, and to each, she brings a special sensibility of inclusion, equality, and respect of each other. She knows first-hand the therapeutic quality and joy of collaborative artistic endeavors having worked on mosaic projects in schools where students have suffered trauma from violence. The creative projects also give the students a space to come together and share in a mutual accomplishment far away from the white-noise of social media and anxiety of 24/7 news cycles.

“We start each session talking about our lives and the project. Everyone gets to speak as we try to create a culture of kindness so that we can begin to work together helping and encouraging each other along the way,” Stockman says. “I’m passionate about wanting to bring a sense of aesthetics into schools, to cut through some of the institutional coldness of them.”

As students circled the mosaic—another way of including everyone in the creative effort—they clipped and cut the jigsaw pieces of glass needed to follow Stockman’s underlying design. Each student was drawn to different aspects of the design, but all took part in the overall drive to complete it.

Well into its sixth day Thursday, the image was almost complete, but work was still needed to meet their 8 pm deadline and help, they hoped, would arrive from community members answering their invitation.

The mosaic will eventually be placed on the exterior of the building as a sparkling example of what can be accomplished by students unified by a common artistic goal. Hopefully, they will carry the spirit of collaboration with them.

The project was funded through the support of the Maryland State Arts Council and the Kent County Arts Council.