By Melissa Domingo
This year at Summit Shasta, three different art courses are offered: Intro to Art, Intermediate Art, and Creative Writing as Performance. The courses are being offered as VPA courses during Expeditions; Expeditions are elective courses that are taught in four two-week-long rounds throughout the school year. Taking at least one VPA course is a high school graduation requirement as stated by the California Arts Standards for Public Schools. A VPA course is a Visual and Performing Arts course that has been submitted to and reviewed by the UC Portal.
Kalyn Olson, the Dean of Instruction and Culture for Expeditions, said that to create a course that is VPA approved, teachers will have to submit it for review on the UC Portal website: “So they use the UC portal, that’s what they call it, takes a look at our curriculum and says, ‘Yes, this meets the requirements to count for UC schools.’”
In previous years, students were given a larger variety of VPA courses to choose from. Shasta junior Ethan Taylor briefly talked about the other courses that were offered: “Well, there are some other classes that I would rather take. I wish they had Video Production this year. But, I think [Creative Writing] is the best VPA course for me this year.”
Last school year, Summit Shasta offered Creative Writing as Performance, Intro to Art, Intermediate Art, Stage Combat, Multimedia Political Journalism and Video Production.
Though there are three offered courses this school year, the selection has been limited to two different categories of VPA courses: writing or art. Students and teachers alike believe that we should have more VPA courses. However, Ms. Olson did mention that the amount of VPA courses available are dependent on the personnel on campus.
Creative Writing as Performance is taught by Eric Gross. As Shasta junior Aaron Susantin put it, the course “entails just understanding rhetorical devices and using them to convey emotion, but also there’s a bit of a performance aspect to it … You do have to read … your writings to a crowd or to one person, at least. So there is a presentation aspect to it. But I feel it’s a much more focus on the creative writing part.”
Taylor also describes the course as a place to “actually put your own influences, and like upbringings down on paper, and just, like, you know, just let your imagination run wild.”
Currently, these students are focused on writing children’s literature books that they will later read to students at a local elementary school. Through this Expeditions round, Mr. Gross has taught his students about code-switching, archetypes and allegories.
Students in this course eagerly detailed the plots to their stories, all of which had different ranges of complexity. Some students wrote about the importance of family, friendship and kindness.
All of the Creative Writing course students praised Mr. Gross for the amount of creative freedom he gives them. Shasta senior Jada Lupe said, “He gives us a lot of creative freedom. Yeah, he doesn’t hold back.”
Shasta sophomore Matthew Lam felt that “right now, it’s really fun in the class because, like, you can write whatever you want, as long as it’s appropriate and has a meaning behind it.”
Taylor commented, “What I like most about him is that no matter what we write about, his biases will never come into play when grading us. Like, even if we write something on, like, the more political side, which I tend to not, but, like, even if we do, he won’t, like, judge our writing based on, like, what he believes in, more judge it based on, like, how much we express ourselves. So I definitely like that it gives us the freedom to express ourselves in the way that we want.”
Mr. Gross would like students to know “although it is a Creative Writing course, creative writing means a lot more than what I think the mind immediately assumes. We’ve already, like, or will have ready at the end of this second week, in four weeks done a lot. We’ve worked on identity work; we’ve written different characters, voices; we’re now code switching to write to children. So I think the initial thought of Creative Writing is just like we sit and write for two and a half hours in a notebook and then call it a day is a bit nearsighted. And so I think I’d want people just to know that there’s a lot to Creative Writing. And that’s what we try and offer in this class.”
Intro to Art, taught by Meridith Burchiel, focuses on teaching students the fundamentals of art. Shasta freshman Sarai Au said, “We have a teacher who teaches us the basics of art, such as landscapes and portraits and just different ways to use paint in different ways to express our creativity.”
Currently, students in Intro to Art are painting their own landscapes. Students were inspired by different landscapes and had different takes on the prompt they were given. Swirling hues of yellows, greens and reds were seen on the students’ pieces as they worked diligently on finishing their pieces.
Students in the class mentioned their appreciation for the creative freedom they’re given. Au said, “We do have a lot of time to do our own thing, majority of the time, involving our project and at the same time, she keeps you on task. I enjoy the creative freedom that we have. And I appreciate that we don’t, there’s no borders and how she teaches art in that she accepts the way people paint if they’re beginners, if they’re not, and just their styles.”
Julia Kuschner, Shasta junior and the teaching assistant of the class, also mentioned the freedom the students are given: “They have the choice, to do whatever, like? Well, like in landscape wise, like they have to do a landscape but they can do whatever landscape they want to do. Their freedom is like, unlimited, basically.”
Ms. Burchiel talked about her goals for her classes: “I want students to make things that they feel proud of. And I want them to feel that they’ve made something that can help them feel heard about what’s in their heart and what they want to say to the world and that they’ve created something that now exists in the universe that says, you know, something about them as a person.”
Ms. Burchiel mentioned how she enjoyed teaching both an introduction class and an intermediate class. She said, “I love intro because it’s so many people’s first time, like, doing any, like, painting or really, like, thinking about making art at all and it makes me so happy to see people say, like, it makes me so happy to hear people say, like, ‘I had no idea I could do this, like, this turned out so much better than I thought.’” She also said that she loved her intermediate class because “in intermediate, it’s more about, like, the concept of the artwork… What do you want to say and then, the how are we going to say it with art? So that’s a really cool that I get to do both of those.”
Ms. Burchiel closed by saying, “I just want everyone to know that they can make beautiful artwork that they feel proud of, even if they think they can’t, they definitely can. So they should take my class.”
Mr. Gross said that we should have more courses, in general: “I think I would say, just in general, we would love to have more Expeditions offerings in general; I think having that choice for students is big. And I know that’s a big thing that our Expeditions leaders are pushing is to have more choices. So we’re not, you know, shoving kids in these classes they don’t want to be in. So I definitely think, like, yes, we should have and are looking to get more Expeditions courses. And then specifically, in terms of VPA, like yeah, of course, there’s obviously much more to the arts beyond just writing or the other offerings here. So I think the more the better for sure.”
Susantin shared that he thought “having a broader selection of VPA courses will make people stop viewing the VPA as a requirement and more of just something else, some, another potential. Because I know a lot of students look forward to some of their essentials classes and VPAs don’t tend to be those classes.”
Kuschner said that “if there are a lot of kids that want to express who they are through different things like not just writing or art I think then we should have a different, like, a variety of VPA courses. Just, so, like kids who maybe aren’t into creative writing or art, maybe can do like their own, like, creative course.”
FEATURED IMAGE (at the top of this post): An Intro to Art student works on a landscape piece. PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Domingo