Susquehannock students focus on art

Alyssa Pressler
  • High school seniors are creating a mosaic for the high school hallways.
  • The school is decorated with murals; this is the first mosaic.

It's a trend among schools right now to focus on STEM, and when funding issues arise, some of the first programs to get cut involve the arts. Susquehannock High School is different.

The school offers several art courses, fine arts teacher Wesley Myers said. He teaches fine arts courses related to drawing, painting and design. Another art teacher offers courses focusing on video production, and a third teacher presents courses on photography, complete with an old-school darkroom.

During free periods and sometimes during class, groups of students can be found painting murals in the school hallways or on classroom ceiling tiles. Myers said many English, history and foreign-language teachers make the projects part of their curriculum. As opposed to writing a 10-page paper, for example, students might write a five-page paper and paint a ceiling tile with images relating to what they are learning so the teacher can reference it when teaching that subject in the future.

In a nutshell, Myers said, the administration is extremely supportive when it comes to students wanting to beautify the school through art. When he approached Principal Kevin Molin with the idea of creating a mosaic in the hallways of the high school, he found the enthusiasm he was looking for.

Mosaic: Myers' art seminar class, which comprises mostly seniors, began working on the giant dragon mosaic right after Presidents Day. The dragon spans an entire flight of stairs. The students are making their own tile for the mosaic, using a kiln and smashing the tiles as they go.

Myers got the idea for a mosaic while he was reflecting on his first year with the district. At the time, he was working in the elementary schools while an artist in residence, Justin Ayala, was working in Shrewsbury Elementary School.

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Ayala has worked in several schools in the county through stART Something, an organization that helps schools keep art as an educational priority through artist-in-residence programs, where artists stay and work with a school district for a period of time. Ayala worked on a mosaic at Shrewsbury nine years ago, which Myers remembered well. It inspired him to do one at the high school.

For the next month, the class of 11 students will work in teams to piece together the glass to create a mosaic. While one team works in the hallway, the other team works on creating more tiles to keep things moving forward.

Art student Monika Rostek-Kuwazaki, 17, left, and instructor Wesley Myers apply ceramic pieces to a mosaic in one of Susquehannock High's stairwells, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Myers hopes the project will give students a way to leave their mark on their high school. It's also something the students can revisit. As a Susquehannock alumnus himself, he's no stranger to the tradition, recalling how the art room used to look and the marks he left on the school before returning to teach.

The students are thankful for the opportunity to do just that.

"As seniors who are going to leave soon, it's nice to have something left behind," said senior Dana Harpster, 18.

The project gives students a unique opportunity to work on a mosaic, something they might not do as much on their own, Myers said. Because the class is an upper-level class, he knows most of the students' preferred artistic methods, and mosaic isn't necessarily among them. The project pushes their comfort level.

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Dana and senior Philip Karpouzie, 18, remember working on the mosaic with Ayala in elementary school, but this is their first one since.

"It's like a puzzle," Philip said. "It's kind of fun."

For senior Emily Hellwig, 17, the fun of the project isn't necessarily the puzzle aspect, which can be frustrating or difficult. It's the teamwork.

"It's fun to work with other people on an art project," Emily said. "In a lot of other art classes, you work along on your own projects."

The school's diverse options for art education has inspired some of the students to explore art as a future career. Dana said she plans to major in fine arts in college.

"I don't think I would have explored a career in art without these classes," Dana said.

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