Artisan Dances

This post is in praise of the homespun, the handcrafted, the artisan. I’ve been places where high school dances are elaborate affairs, acres of lights, fog machines (that somehow always set off the fire alarm), and a sense of spectacle that rivals a Hollywood production. I once chaperoned a prom in an affluent Southern California community held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. They brought in a ferris wheel.

DVDWb6sUQAMHBhRThere is certainly something memorable about a spectacle, it’s in the name I suppose, but to tell the truth the best school dances I’ve ever seen have been less about fireworks and more about feeling. These events, the really good ones, aren’t store bought or rented by the hour. They’re built by hand, crafted with creativity, and imagined with an eye to the unexpected.

This fall, one manifestation of the unexpected came in the form of pudding, forty pounds of it.

Being at ACMA means being ready for anything. The unexpected happens so often it can be depended on: a piano in the cafeteria, a visiting llama, a teacher in a kilt? Yep, ACMA. Art everywhere in the hallways, impromptu violin concerts at lunch, and no mascot? ACMA. Silly yearbook photos, the principal in a cannibal movie, kindness as part of the middle school science curriculum? That’s ACMA too.

So on an October morning when my secretary leaned into my office and said: “I’ll be right back. I need to go pick up forty pounds of pudding” I knew enough to simply nod and answer “Great!”

Just outside my door piles of boxes had been accumulating for a couple of weeks: glow sticks, neon paper, and paint splattered posters. This was going to be an ‘80s themed fall dance, and it was going to be, I was assured, totally awesome.

IMG_9044By the end of the week we’d have boxes of apples, bags of popcorn, and enough caramel to satisfy the hundreds of students who would fill our Quonset Hut, courtyard, and hallways that Friday night. Throughout the week I saw rolls of colored paper turn into posters of dancers, checkerboard designs (that I was told would look fantastic underneath the black lights), and a giant boom box.

Every afternoon after the last bell rang, a core of Dance Committee students and a panoply of others spent day after day in the hallways painting, cutting, and preparing for the dance. To the sounds of Duran Duran, Wham, and Madonna they laughed and worked together to come up with what they imagined the 1980s to be.

A week before they’d asked our staff for photos of themselves in the 1980s. The results, which looked like the casting call for a John Hughes movie, were put into a slideshow that ran on a loop on our indoor marquee on the day of the dance.

Decorations continued to emerge: the giant Rubik’s Cube, the banner announcing the GLOW HALLWAY, and the black lights (that the kids were so excited about that the custodian put them in the fixtures outside the library by the Wednesday before the dance).

On Thursday my cafeteria lead came into the office to purchase tickets to the dance for two students who were having some trouble affording them. So very ACMA.

The pudding arrived, in four pound pouches two to a box (for anyone curious how forty pounds of pudding arrives, as I was). I found out that the pudding was destined for dixie cups, to be covered with crumbled Oreos and planted with a gummy worm. I’m not sure how that fit into the ‘80s, but still… homemade fun.

IMG_9049Friday after school the hallways moon walked back in time. The decorations that had been piling up in the office found their proper places around campus, a fleet of tables appeared in the courtyard (to be manned by parent volunteers who would serve caramel apples, popcorn, and worm cups), and the DJ set up in the Quonset Hut.

But dancing at a dance is just one part of the experience at our little school. As those Men Without Hats remind us, “You can dance if you want to…” Some don’t. They’re still friends of mine, and at ACMA we have a quiet room set aside for board games and to serve as a haven for those of us who need an island of quiet on a night of reveling. It’s the Lionel Ritchie to the evening’s Quiet Riot, and at every dance our game room is a popular choice. Some only stay for a round or two of Apples to Apples; some hunker down over an evening of laughter and Jenga.

Then Friday night arrived, and with it students in ‘80s wear that would have made Cindi Lauper proud. Asymmetrical, neon, and bedazzled, the outfits took me back to my own high school years (when an ‘80s dance was simply called a dance). As with the decorations and planning for the dance itself, the students had brought creativity and their own interpretation to what they were wearing, and the results were fantastic.

IMG_9045And occasionally unexpected, like the student who arrived in armor and said: “‘80s dance? You mean 1380s, right?”

Walking around that night I was struck by the overwhelming quality of everything. The ‘80s outfits were put together with care, whimsy, and (it looked to someone who was there during the Reagan administration) historical research. The decorations were thoughtful, well done, and had been formed by the hands of scores of students.

And that was it: the students owned this dance.

As they had with last year’s May the Fourth extravaganza (with a stunning Darth Maul in full makeup) and the epic winter formal (complete with a life size cutout of one of our math teachers dressed as a gondolier), ACMA students had created something marvelous.

Plus, pudding.

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A Yellow Bathrobe

Halloween. It’s a tough topic in some quarters in education. I’ve worked at schools where it was one of the worst days of the year for administrators like me, confiscating Jason’s carving knife, counseling pregnant nuns, and persuading the masses that togas might not be a fantastic idea at school.

At one high school I followed a fellow in a full gorilla suit on a merry chase that led through and then off campus, ending in the parking lot of a run down apartment complex. When he was unmasked, like something out of a Scooby Doo cartoon, it turned out that he was a senior we’d expelled who was wanted by the police.

Don’t get me started on ninjas.

It doesn’t help that off the shelf costumes marketed to appeal to teens often carry the word “naughty” in their description: nurse, superhero, witch. For the fellows, gore, drag, or innuendo. A principal I once worked for used to say “I’d rather come in and work on Christmas day than deal with this Halloween nonsense.” Behind closed doors he did not use the word “nonsense.”

halloweenvideothumbAs a principal I’ve always tried to appeal to common sense. A student once helped me with a video to underscore the importance of the no mask policy.

I’ve always tried to encourage homemade and clever over store bought raunch, and still, the water polo player covered in Hulk green body paint and wearing only a purple speedo…

Ah, Halloween.

So then I got to ACMA.

Folks told me that at our creative school Halloween was a national holiday.

I found out it is.

And getting ready for this year’s parade of creativity my office staff, my wife, and my kids all told me that as the principal I had to dress up.

As a substitute? I offered. No.

A petty bureaucrat? Nope.

Then one day in September when I’d tweeted some photos of student art, a couple of my staff spotted a painting and said that they had the answer.

Halloween

The coffee wielding human staring down the …something fantastic and wild, they said, needed to be my costume.

Halloween arrived, face painted and trailing a cape.

I met it wearing a yellow bathrobe and sipping coffee from a green mug.

IMG_9235We started the day, as we had the year before, with music from Harry Potter, a recognizable and magical theme, played over the intercom. Walking the hallways was an adventure in color and creativity. A giant camera, David Bowie, and an amazing handcrafted wolf laughed alongside Dorothy, Toto, and one of the most elegant green faced witches I’d ever seen.

I started visiting classrooms. In one the Morton Salt Girl, Taako, and Bob Ross sat next to a Royal Guard from the Tower of London, a vampire with real fangs, and Little Red Riding Hood. Incredible.

I spotted two avocados, a giraffe, and a biker in black pleather. More than the usual plush ears and tails giggled through the hallways, rubbing shoulders with pirates, cowboys, and Bilbo Baggins.

Two matching Waldos asked if I wanted to play hide and seek.

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Perhaps the most striking thing about Halloween at ACMA is the overwhelming creativity on display. These are wildly artistic students with talent to match their imaginations. The best costumes are always homemade, clever, and rooted in fun. Simple or complicated, big or subtle, this celebration of art is, at its best, a window into our collective soul.

As I strolled my radio crackled and I got the call that a history teacher, who would later arrive as a mummy, was held up in traffic. I had a chance to cover his AP US History class for a few minutes.

I unlocked the door and as students filed in, steampunk, cub scout, and zombie, there was the artist of my inspiration painting herself. It brought me no end of joy that she, and her peers, recognized my costume without explanation.

Magical things happen at our little school, sometimes on Halloween.

Feathers/Wings

IMG_8703We started them on the first day of school, the day when all students new to ACMA came to campus a day before returning students. After a welcome in the auditorium students fanned out across campus in groups, visiting the library, participating in some theatre games, and making art. That art was simple in design, but big in idea. Feathers.

Each student got to choose a bright cardstock strip to draw or write on any way they thought represented them. Faces, quotations, animals, the choices were as different as each individual student. Next, they cut these into the shapes of a feathers, and by the end of the day hundreds were piled on the art studio table.

IMG_8704Over the next couple of weeks we added to the pile of feathers. Staff took turns making their own during our preservice week, parents got to make feathers at my first principal’s coffee, and our intrepid assistant principal set up a table for returning students to make their own at lunch. The feathers filled a wicker basket to overflowing, and then…

On the wall outside my office at the front of the school those feathers became wings. On a rich blue background two swooping collections of feathers reached toward the butchers paper clouds. On those clouds, drifting about the rainbow wings, were written: “Attitude determines altitude” and “Commit to soar, ACMA.”

IMG_8701We figured it would be a nice photo opportunity for any souls willing to stand in front and make the wings their own. It was also a metaphor that captures at least a bit of who we are as a school.

Individually we are creative, divergent, and wildly individualistic. Some of us draw, some of us write, some of us express ourselves in music and movement. Those feathers showed all the colors of our rainbow, gave each person their own personal space to create, and the freedom to be themselves. And…

Together those individual feathers coalesced and created something magical and greater than any one individual. Alone we are feathers; together we are wings.

So too at our little art school. The painter, the poet, the percussionist; the dancer, the director, the dreamer; each left to our own devices can create something marvelous and individual, but how much more when the sculptor and the screenwriter, the filmmaker and the photographer, the actor and the artist support each other?

Art unifies us. Art lifts us up. Art, and each other, helps us soar.

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Safe Haven

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 8.46.13 AMYear after year the kids filed in. Smiling faces, eager learners, tears, scraped knees, victories and defeats on the four square courts. From 1949 through 1974 C.E. Mason Elementary was home to neighborhood kids, a solid foundation for future Beavertonians.

Students at C.E. Mason saw lots of change around them, both nationally as events of the middle of the last century marched, lurched, and scurried this way and that, and closer to home with additions to their campus that included covered walkways and a couple of different colored paint jobs.

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 1.32.06 PMLooking back at photos of students from across the years is to see in youth what the country was like through the cold war and into the turbulent 70s. In school pictures, the collars widen, hair lengthens on both boys and girls, and formality gives way to a more colorful world.

By 1973, however, enrollment at C.E. Mason had dropped below 400 students, and in June of 1974 it closed its doors as an elementary school.

That’s not to say that C.E. Mason ceased to exist. In the fall of 1974 the building welcomed students from Five Oaks Intermediate School who stayed for two years as their new campus was being built. It was a new life for an old building, a renewal of sorts that would help to define our campus for the rest of the decade.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 9.13.31 AMOn September 4th, 285 students from Five Oaks moved onto campus determined to make it their own. They filled classrooms with music played on record players and doughnuts frying in electric skillets in culinary arts. The Quonset Hut became home to the basketball team, gymnasts, and wrestlers, and outside administrators bundled up to supervise in the rain. (That last one has been constant since Principal Esther Peer in 1949 and on up to today. I’ll be heading out for lunch duty in the rain soon).Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 9.16.05 AM

Five Oaks students had electives like woodcraft and tie-dying, and students from 1974-1976 remember wearing the brightly colored hand made t-shirts in the hallways.

The Bicentennial year saw students doing pull ups on outdoor metal bars, sampling soup in the courtyard, and studying Spanish while wearing the groovy designs our kids dress up in on 70s day during Spirit Week.

All in all, Five Oaks made C.E. Mason their own for the two years they were here, and the photos from the time suggest it was fabulous! When they moved back to their home campus, I have to imagine that a few missed the place they spent 1974-1976.

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Greenway Elementary School followed Five Oaks, filling C.E. Mason until their school was completed in 1980. In these “in between” years our campus was, as Timberland Middle School will be for ACMA next year, a haven for students in need of a place to learn.

Mascotte

“The word ‘mascot’ comes from the French term ‘mascotte’ meaning lucky charm. The word was first recorded in 1867 and popularized by the opera ‘La Mascotte’, performed in December 1880. It then entered the English language in 1881.” -from The History of Mascots, International University Sports Federation

At ACMA we do not have a mascot. Established in 1992, Arts & Communication Magnet Academy has made it more than a quarter century without a “lucky charm” that we can put on coffee mugs, sweatshirts, and baseball caps. Still, from time to time the question rears its plush costumed head: should we?

A few paragraphs from now I’ll end this post with the line: ACMA transcends any single image, any simple definition, and any (even the most creative) mascot. But before that, just for a smile, I offer the top ten ideas I’ve heard over the past year…

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 12.47.30 PMACMA Tigers
A call back to history, when C.E. Mason Elementary opened in 1949 with the very midcentury mascot, the Tigers! (It just feels like a mascot like that needs an exclamation point after it.) Tigers would be a great mascot for ACMA with so many possibilities for artists to have fun with the traditional image and a nod to the plush ears and tails so many of our students wear right now. Tiger striped sweatshirts? Sure, our students could make that work. But…

We’re not really all that traditional, even with a pinch of irony, and if we were looking for an animal to represent that playful and unexpected nature that help to define us, we’d probably go with someone we know and love: Rojo!

RojoACMA Llamas
One of last year’s highlights was the visit from ACMA spirit animal Rojo the llama. Rojo came to campus, kissed some students, enjoyed the love we shared (and reflected it back in warm waves).

As she waited her turn to pet Rojo in the courtyard last year a student asked me why the llama was on campus. “It’s ACMA,” I told her. “Magical things happen here.” She smiled and nodded. That sounded right. So what better animal to go on the ACMA swag than a llama? Well…

If frequency was taken into consideration, the animal most associated with our artsy campus would have to be a unicorn.

ACMA Unicorns
From backpacks to plush horns, the unicorn is the animal embodiment of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. Magic, fanciful, beautiful, and bringing joy, unicorns are to ACMA what ponies are to Mongolia. During a “shadow day” last fall, when fifth graders considering applying to ACMA visit campus for a day, one of our current students who was acting as a guide arrived to school in a unicorn onesie. “I just wanted the kids to know what we’re all about,” she explained. “Here you can be yourself.”

…or a unicorn. But…

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 11.34.21 AMNot every student wants to be a unicorn. Knowing you can wear a cape, or a beret, or a pair of cat ears is different than choosing to wear a cape, or a beret, or a pair of cat ears. That spirit of possibility and creativity unites us, but looks different in each of our students. It’s why maybe an animal, real or imagined, isn’t the perfect mascot. Maybe we should think about something more universal to who we are, like…

ACMA Artists
We print it on the pencils we give out at the start of the year: ACMA Artists. It’s simply who we are. Writers, dancers, sculptors, filmmakers, actors, painters, animators, singers, photographers, stage techs, musicians… we are ACMA.

So maybe that’s just a description, not a mascot. A mascot ought to be something with some symbolism, some playfulness, some history. What if we looked back at the opening of the school and tried something clever? What if we considered…

ACMA Masonites
The what? Well… when Arts & Communication High School opened in 1992 they did so in a building with the name C.E. Mason still emblazoned above the front door. Early attempts at naming the school included the original name, and looking back on photos from ACMA’s past you can see that during the first Clinton administration they were still calling themselves “Masonites.” How marvelous then to keep this throwback handle even as ACMA moves forward? A conversation piece! A curiosity! A silly idea? Perhaps.

No, our students identify less with C.E. Mason than they do more artistic spirits. Maybe, to take the senior painting from a year ago as inspiration, we could be…

bowieACMA David Bowies
Yes, some will argue, there is only one David Bowie, but is there really? Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, that fellow in the suit singing about getting to the church on time? Bowie was not only a wild creative force, but his shapeshifting nature goes a long way to capture who we are as a collective artistic community at ACMA. Visual, musical, always in motion, Bowie embodies art in a way few did. Filmmakers and actors? Don’t forget Labyrinth! Plus, he’s the coolest cat around.

But, you’ll say, he’s a fellow and you’re 75% female at ACMA. Okay, then closer to home…

ACMA Mona Lisas
She is everywhere on campus. Painted on walls: a canine Mona Lisa, an abstract Mona Lisa, and a Mona Lisa in flannel.

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She finds her way into every hallway, her enigmatic smile as ACMA as ACMA can be. More than almost any image, Mona Lisa, or the unexpected riffs on DaVinci’s painting, capture the intersection of student creativity and classical art. Put Mona Lisa on a t-shirt and folks won’t be surprised that you’re talking about ACMA. And…

ACMA …the ACMA
Last year we asked students what they thought. We invited them to come up with an answer to the question: “What is the ACMA?” They drew and wrote out ideas, and the results were as varied as our students. One student suggested a penguin, another a ghost. Another noticed that “ACMA” as it’s so often pronounced sounds very much like “Akuma,” the word for a Japanese fire demon. All of those answers are as right as tigers, or Masonites, or David Bowies.

IMG_6246I love that at ACMA we aren’t easy to pin down. I dig that to define us defies expectations and avoids easy labeling. That we don’t have a mascot feels as right. We are possibility. We inhabit a world of change, transfiguration, and magic. Heck, we create it.

So as fun as it would be to have an ACMA sweatshirt with a picture of Mona Lisa or the Spiders from Mars on it, I like that the next week I could wear a unicorn, and the week after that an ACMA Llama. It’s the uninhibited possibility that really captures who we are.

Truth be told, ACMA transcends any single image, any simple definition, and any (even the most creative) mascot.

A Luxurious Profusion of Art

I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I write a bit, and like to. Occasionally I’ll scribble something resembling a cartoon; my kids tell me they can always recognize a sketch as mine when a pirate or a cat shows up on a note or inside a greeting card. It makes me happy to see my daughter’s own cartoon cats beating mine into Grandma’s birthday card (cats are easy and fill up the space, she explains to me, my rationale as well, though I haven’t yet admitted that to her).

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My wife is the real artist, a painter whose time in art school showed that she could also sculpt, make books, and create with wire. At one point a life sized model of me made from metal mesh knelt on the balcony of our apartment in Oakland. What the neighbors must have thought.

I have a good friend who is a classical guitarist, and while I’ve never learned an instrument myself, I recognize his playing as magical. That said, I feel my heart swell when I listen to my daughter practicing the piano at home, and the other night, long after sensible parents had put their kids to bed, I’ll confess to being delighted when I heard her quietly plucking La Vie en Rose on the ukulele.

This appreciation extends to every live performance I’ve ever seen in the theater. The last time I acted on stage I was in the third grade, a weasel in a school production of Wind in the Willows. It was the 1970s and costumes were very homemade. My tail, which I remember being as round as a mason jar and longer than my leg, literally knocked over scenery during the weasel dance in Toad Hall. I never acted again.

But, “O for a muse of fire…” how I wish I could memorize lines, or play the violin, or knock out Misty on the piano. To be able to paint an autumn field alla prima, or throw a pot on the wheel, or tap dance… these are skills that leave me in wonder.

I remember a time, now decades ago, going in to the Hipbone Studio in Portland with my wife for an evening of life drawing. Her sketches in charcoal on newsprint looked like something by Raphael; thirty minutes in I’d resorted to caricaturing my fellow artists.

And what does this long reflection (confession?) on my own artistic shortcomings have to do with anything? I suppose some of it is just a love or words. As Stephen Fry wrote:

While I am fond of the condensed and economical use of [words] in poetry, in song lyrics, in Twitter, in good journalism, and smart advertising, I love the luxuriant profusion and mad scatter of them too.”

So as someone who appreciates art, and art of all kinds, and who has the pleasure of earning a living by being the principal of an art school, I relish the chance to madly scatter a few words of praise and wonder at the arts and artists I spend time with every day.

This extends beyond the gallery or performance hall, and peeks behind the curtain or glossy cover of the literary magazine.

Beyond the swell of inspiration that comes from watching performances and seeing finished work on display, there is something fundamentally profound in seeing the process of artists creating.

The hours a filmmaker invests setting up shots, coaching actors, editing and adding music; the days a sculptor devotes before a piece goes into the kiln; the endless rehearsals a jazz musician muscles through to make a piece feel easy to the audience; this making of art is, as often, where the true magic lies.

Watching the sawing, hammering, and painting of sets before the play opens, or listening as the costume designers talk options with their director, these are the moments when art is alive.

Poets mulling over words, short story writers wrestling with their characters, playwrights polishing dialogue, this is art.

Choirs harmonizing, orchestras coming together to bring a score to life, the work it takes for large groups like this to make music together is the challenge of art that brings with it the possibility of bringing us closer together.

Dancers, dedicated beyond belief, pushing themselves mentally and physically to make their art appear effortless to an audience who doesn’t see the hours in the studio, the starts and stops, the grinding work they throw themselves into in the collective embrace of music and marley.

And knowing I can’t dance, or play the cello, or step into the darkroom with a roll of film and come out with a work of art, I do my best to be the most appreciative audience I can be.

I applaud ferociously. I celebrate unceasingly. I post images of student art on Instagram, video clips of choir on Facebook, and posters of the upcoming shows on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 9.07.18 AMI do my best to remember what it was like when I was a youngster and my dad taught me how to take photographs. He was patient, methodical, and caring. My wonder at seeing the world through a viewfinder, just as my dad did, is something I see in the many young photographers on campus. And I think about what it was like to be young and artistic and have an adult believe in me and want me to succeed.

I aspire to be that adult, one of many adults at our school with that caring and belief, who strives to be that supportive force for all students.

Art transforms the world. Making art transforms the artist.

Thank heaven for places like ACMA, where art and artists are given the support and opportunity to transform us all.

Found

We tried something different at our last staff meeting. After spending some time analyzing data and engaging in a rousing discussion of student academic success and the results from our student wellness survey we shifted gears and did a little crafting. Specifically, every staff member got a sheet of paper with a couple of pictures copied onto it and together we laughed as we helped each other fold (and fold and fold and cut and fold) those pieces of paper into miniature books.

IMG_8460The blank pages inside the books, I explained, were for the staff members to fill out as we went on a little walking tour of campus. Ours is a school built in 1949, added onto in the 1950s, and one that made a life changing transformation into an arts academy just over twenty years ago. Some of our staff have been here since almost the beginning (of the art school, not the 1949 elementary), and the stories they have to tell are as rich as they are inspiring. Over the course of the year we’re celebrating those stories and the people and events that form the history of our little school.

Part of that celebration is listening, engaging with the past, and making connections to our present and our future. One joy of the process is the parade of surprises that surface with a little digging: there was once a large greenhouse on campus, the reason a roll of film is painted above the classroom near the front door is because it once was the filmmaking room, the fact that an English classroom used to be the library and a history room was once the staff lounge (and that a couch from that lounge is now a prop in our theater).

So as we left the library, which in the 1950s was the assembly room and later became the gym, tiny blank books in hand, I asked the teaches if on those empty pages they would write, draw, or capture in whatever way they wanted some of what they were seeing and hearing on our campus walkabout. Their individual perspectives on our school matter, I told them, and using this little rectangle of paper to record them could provide something fun for others too. What if, I asked, when they were done, they scattered their ACMA history books across campus for students to find?

IMG_8462So we walked.

Our first stop was the Quonset Hut where our students now eat lunch. There, amongst the cafeteria tables, one of our most veteran teachers pointed to the high arched ceiling and brought everyone’s attention to the black paint rising up the walls. “From there back,” he said, “was the stage…” and then he began describing the wild creativity, born of the necessity of not having a world class theater, that had filled the space. He talked about the production that included a swimming pool, the dance numbers, the music, and the staging of Alice in Wonderland that knew it was the last ever in the space and cut holes in the makeshift stage for trap doors and other surprises. “We were creative,” he explained, “because we had to be.”

The true words of an artist.

IMG_8466From there we walked north to the “new edition” of 1950 and a math classroom that housed one of the many Mona Lisas of ACMA. Anyone walking our halls today notices variations on DaVinci’s theme: Mona Lisa in flannel, Mona Lisa as a dog etc. etc. Most are painted directly on the plaster and easy for anyone to see, but the math teacher who calls this room home had mentioned to me that he’d found the newspaper Mona Lisa that fell off the wall a few years ago and given her a home in his room. Pausing to look at her, our staff took time to talk about the magic of student art filling our halls. From the paintings and tiles to the giant salmon above the western doorway and the masks above the Tom Marsh Gallery, student work is a part of who we are as a school. Our next task, as we walked south toward the main office, was to slow down (a tough thing for a teacher in September) and really notice what we were seeing. That, and jot in our books.

We filed down the hallway and toward the corner where we stopped next to talk about another kind of art …the professional type. I’ll save details of this for a future post, but a fact that I went more than a year before knowing was that hanging alongside some of our student artwork is the work of well known artists from the Pacific Northwest. The smiles in the eyes of our staff as one of our art teachers described our “collection” were inspiring.

IMG_8461We ended back in the library (née assembly room, née gym) where adults who knew a little more about their school scribbled and sketched in the books they’d made, books that were a bit of them and bit of ACMA, presents of the past for students of our present.

The next morning, arriving to school early, I spotted a few of those books in hallway. By lunch I’d seen more in the classrooms I visited throughout the morning. Will they get students wondering? Will they prompt someone to ask a question about our school or inspire curiosity about our campus?

Whatever the result, the process of reflecting on our shared history and taking time to be creative together made for a fantastic end to a meeting that was all about understanding our students and helping them succeed. Truth be told, I believe that our walk has the potential to help make our school a better place for kids (and adults too). Data is certainly a way to understand our schools and ourselves, but so too are stories.

I love the creativity I saw in my staff, the willingness to get up out of their chairs and do something unusual, and the gift they were willing to create for the kids to discover.