Sculpting Rocketship Art

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by Kevin Bronk
Editor, Beyond

It’s just after recess on a Tuesday afternoon as first graders in Ms. Adam’s class swing their feet under their desks awaiting the arrival of Ms. Solomon, Alma Academy’s art teacher.

A first grader from Alma shows off his kente pattern, still a work in progress.

A first grader from Alma shows off his kente pattern, still a work in progress.

Vincent, a tiny Rocketeer with a big smile, nods his head excitedly as he tells me he’s really good at art.

Soon a large cart stuffed with colorful paper, an array of fabrics, and boxes of markers and crayons rolls through the door. Solomon appears in a bright orange sweater and a black, San Jose State graduation stole with kente patterns. She seamlessly transitions kids into their first project of the day, creating a kente cloth square with symmetrical lines and patterns of their choice. Holding her stole high in the air, Solomon points out the patterns as an exemplar.

“I think art and all the enrichment play a huge role,” she explained to me before class. “It’s great to strengthen the creative sides of the brain. And I try to shout out how there’s lots of opportunities for artists in college.”

Before coming to Rocketship this fall, Solomon had a background in after school programming and summer camp. She also volunteered at Rocketship. When she applied to for a full time position, she looked at both tutor and enrichment center coordinator positions and ultimately decided an ECC position focused on art was perfect for her.

“I like art, and I want to know more about it. The comforting thing is I get taught through Art House Kids, and then I get to teach key things to the kids with projects about art around the world.”

Ms. Solomon points out an interesting pattern on a student's kente square.

Ms. Solomon points out an interesting pattern on a student’s kente square.

Art teachers working with external organizations is a common thread throughout the Rocketship network. Mosaic Elementary also works with Art House Kids, while Brilliant Minds, Mateo Sheedy, Los Sueños and Southside Community Prep all started working with a group call Art in Action this year to get resources, curriculum and support for art. The art programs at Sí Se Puede Academy and Spark are developed by the art teachers with support from their coaches.

Ten minutes north of Alma, Mrs. Cordero leads a third grade art class to create blueprints of various government buildings at Discovery Prep. She’s talking with one student who quickly drew the white house free hand.

“I’m done!” he says, holding his paper high in the air. She looks to him and asks if he thinks the building could stay standing without the walls being measured perfectly. He decides it wouldn’t and begins again on a fresh piece of paper, this time with ruler in hand.

This current unit aligns with math and social studies standards her students are learning about in their core classes.

Recently, third graders finished a project where they created eagles in front of the American flag as part of a unit on symbolism. A bright and eager Rocketeer named Vy takes me in the hall to show me her picture of an eagle in front of the American flag.

Third grade Rocketeer, Vye, points to her American Eagle art project.

Vy, a 3rd grade Rocketeer, proudly shows off her Eagle illustration.

“We looked at pictures of people who were in a war and they woke up and eagles were flying around,” she tells me while stretching to point to her project on the a wall near the school’s entrance. “The eagle and the American flag are symbols of freedom.”

Cordero has been teaching art at Discovery Prep for three years and, with a BA in Spatial Art and experience teaching in the both the San Jose and Triton Museums of Art, she’s eager to bring every student art experiences of their own.

“I think art is a huge asset to what Rocketship can do,” she told me after school. “Our students need that extra visual learning. I think art is more than just craft – it’s a part of life – it’s in everything. I think if we have the curriculum that supports what they’re learning in other core subjects, it will just grow their ability to grasp concepts.”

She coordinates with each teacher to create her art lessons, which differ for each class.

“Art has become a consistent platform for all students to access and engage with our social studies and science curriculum in a very hands on way. Before I implement a new unit, [Mrs. Cordero] and I touch base about the types of projects we would like to see our students make to enhance their key understandings from that unit,” explained Erica Martin, a 4th grade humanities teacher at Discovery Prep. “This type of application is high engagement and yields a high transfer of academic learning to something hands on and real.”

Ms. Cordero works with a third grader to measure perfect walls.

Ms. Cordero works with a third grader to measure perfect walls.

In the future, Cordero hopes to build out a curriculum for art at Rocketship and create a coordinated effort amongst art teachers throughout the network.

“I love teaching. I tried to step away and do display artistry for a while but I went back to teaching. I’m a sucker for the kids. I felt like by coming to Rocketship full time, I could grow the program,” says Cordero.

Kevin Bronk works on the Rocketship Network Support Team and is the editor of Beyond. He is a former Special Education teacher in San Jose, with experience teaching in both traditional public and Rocketship schools. He received a BA in Journalism from the University of Oregon. A current Bay Area resident, Kevin is passionate about education, communication and travel. 

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