School Notes: December 2018

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Crozet Elementary art teacher Hope Caplan and her students’ Wall of Hopes and Dreams installed outside the art room. Photo: Lisa Martin.

State of the Art

Art teacher Hope Caplan’s art room at Crozet Elementary is light-filled, colorful, and amazingly neat. “I call it ‘the studio,’ and I try to keep it very organized,” said Caplan. “Whatever the kids are working on, that’s the centerpiece.” That’s also a good description of her approach to teaching, which gives students lots of autonomy and a sense of ownership, not only in terms of what they create, but also how and where it’s displayed around the school.

Now in her third year of teaching art at Crozet, Caplan is running her first “Eagle Time” after-school elective, a six-week Art Club that meets once a week for third to fifth graders. “We started by walking around the school and taking inventory of the permanent art that had been up for several years, and we talked about which ones to keep and which to update or replace,” said Caplan. The students painted new canvases for some spots, but other pieces, like the fish art displayed above the aquarium, they voted to keep.

The Art Club’s largest installation is a long, wall-sized display of paper designs created by the fifth graders. “This was inspired by the work of artist Jen Stark, who does paper cutting with X-Acto knives to make colorful paper sculptures,” said Caplan. “We looked at a bunch of her work and then the students did their own. There are lots of layers and textures, some are like optical illusions.” The Art Club chose to mount the designs in an arrangement bursting from the center outward in the shape of an elongated diamond, giving the collection a sense of flow and movement.

Caplan brings a multitude of skills to the job, which she calls “the perfect combination of things I love—teaching and doing art.” Her English background has helped her to write grants for funds to acquire digital tablets for the art room, which students use to watch art videos or to sketch using styluses. “We’ve done fundraising to buy some new stools and a 3D printer, and the PTO helped us gets some additional flexible seating for the room,” she said. In her free time, Caplan co-owns and runs Blue-Eyed Crafts, a furniture up-cycling business that sells her hand-painted items from within A&W Collectables Antique Mall in Keswick.

Caplan has many more ideas for her classes than time, but that’s part of the fun, she says. Outside her room is a large mosaic of paint sample strips, on which each student in the school has written or drawn their creative aspirations, from types of art they’d like to try to materials they’d like to work with. “We call it the Wall of Hopes and Dreams,” she said, “and we’ll keep it here the whole year, so they already have something of their own up.” With her cheerful, empowering style, Caplan has built a space where kids can feel free to find their inner artist.

Read Every Day!

Principal Crummie let students duct tape her to the wall during Crozet’s annual Read Every Day event. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Crozet Elementary principal Gwedette Crummie takes an active role in each year’s school-wide Reading Challenge, and this year was no exception. The event theme was Read Your Heart Out, and students decorated paper hearts with their favorite book titles, teachers did the same with book recommendations, and U.Va. football player Jordan Mack came to read to the kids, stressing the importance of reading as a student-athlete. This year’s challenge was that each student read for 18 minutes, for which they received about 18 inches of duct tape to tape Ms. Crummie to the wall. Students arrived in pairs with their buddies (e.g., 5th grade with Kindergarten) and enthusiastically taped up their principal, who was a gamer for the cause, laughing and high-fiving each kid. “Read every day!” she chanted.

Academical Village

The Environmental Studies Academy at Western Albemarle High School is now accepting applications for next year’s freshman class, and director Adam Mulcahy described the program’s unique advantages to prospective students and parents at a recent Open House. “ESA gives you additional science electives in a variety of environmental disciplines, plus a cohort of similar-minded friends, great field trips, and an opportunity to follow your own interests,” Mulcahy told a packed crowd in one of the new flexible science spaces at WAHS.

Western Albemarle High School’s Environmental Studies Academy director Adam Mulcahy describes the program and application process during a recent Open House for interested students and their parents. Applications are now available online, and are due January 25. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Albemarle County offers academies at each of its three main high schools—the Math, Engineering and Science Academy at Albemarle, the Health and Medical Sciences Academy at Monticello, and ESA—and county residents can apply to any they wish. This year, the county offered a new bus service that can shuttle students from their districted high school to and from their chosen academy. 

The academy annually accepts two cohorts of a maximum of 24 students each. Mulcahy counsels students to focus on what they like, not just on getting into an academy. “On the personal essays, we really want to hear your voice and what you think is important,” he said. “We’d like to get to know you, and know that you’re truly interested,” he said.

“In ESA, you’ll take horticulture, botany and plant science, and an AP environmental science class that is designed just for our program, as well as an environmental literature/law class that’s quite unique,” said Mulcahy. A newly instituted Freshman Seminar requirement takes up one of eight blocks during the first year, so ESA students often adapt their class line-up. “Some students use a ‘zero period’ [before school] for a fine arts elective such as band, and about 80 percent of our freshmen took Summer P.E. this past year to leave more room in their schedules for electives or a study hall,” said Mulcahy.

One of the best, perhaps unintended, consequences of the academy structure across the county has been the bonds that quickly form between members of class cohorts. “You have this group of friends right away within this larger high school setting, and it’s wonderful to see the kids work together, eat together, go on hikes on weekends,” said Mulcahy. “These may be kids who didn’t know each other before, but they become a tight-knit group and really support one another.”

ESA senior Nathaniel Brawley-Magee said the academy fit with his interests from the start. “As an eighth grader coming in, I liked the outdoors and camping, and I’d been a member of the Boy Scouts and super involved with that,” he said. “ESA offered a window into those types of activities for me in high school. I took horticulture and college-level biology classes, and that just opened up a lot for me.”

The academy’s original class of 20 students is now in their first year in college, and Mulcahy said they are pursuing a variety of paths. “About a third of them went to U.Va.,” he said, “and we had students go to William & Mary, Portland, and the environmental science programs at CNU, Virginia Tech, and Vermont,” he said. “We’re not trying to make minions. They have interests over the four years they’re here, and we try to foster that, but many follow a different path, too.”

ESA applications are due on January 25. Follow the ESA link on WAHS’s home page for more details. 

Physicist Visits Murray

Professor Cass Sackett, who teaches atomic, molecular, and optical physics at U.Va., spoke to Murray Elementary fifth graders about light and sound. “I come every year,” he said, “and try to show the students neat things they may have heard something about, relating it to topics covered on the SOL’s.”

Professor Cass Sackett at Murray. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Sackett wowed the crowd with demonstrations of an oscilloscope and color spectrum analyzer, and showed how sounds such as the hum of a tuning fork can be viewed as wave patterns. Students enjoyed looking through spectrum glass at different kinds of light to see the visible colors within, but the highlight of the program came when Sackett used a helium neon laser to pop a big red balloon.

Students in Murray Elementary’s fifth grade anticipate the big bang as U.Va. Professor Cass Sackett aims a helium neon laser at a balloon during his talk about the physics of light and sound. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Turkey Bowl

Murray Elementary’s annual Turkey Bowl flag football game between staff and fifth graders was held on the back field the day after torrential rains swept through the area. Principal Mark Green (in the red hat) and the rest of the staff did their best, but the students pulled out the win, 35-28. WAHS football players, including Jacob Jordan (above), helped coach the student players.

Murray Elementary’s annual teachers vs. students flag football game. Photo: Lisa Martin.

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