Friday, April 03, 2009

Intersession at North Country School in Lake Placid

So, one of the things that I have been meaning to blog about here was the incredible, fun week I spent teaching a group of six students (and two grown-ups!) at North Country School over in Lake Placid.

Lauren McGovern contacted me a while back about filling in for another local artist and spending a week teaching about beads, glass and jewelry as art. Since I haven't had an opportunity to work with kids (other than my own!) in a while, I jumped at it.

The first day, we opened by talking about what we were going to do for the rest of the week, and if there was anything in particular that the kids wanted to do. I asked them a few (not so) basic questions like, "What is a bead?" and "What are beads used for?" The answers were great! These kids really thought about their answers, and I was surprised and delighted when one student even knew the answer to the question, "Is glass a solid, liquid or gas?" (It's actually considered a supercooled liquid because of it's molecular structure, and this kid blew me away by saying, "It's an amorphic solid." Correct!)

So after we were done talking, we set out making some simple strung bracelets and necklaces using stretchy cord and an assortment of beads provided by Lauren. The kids had a great time, and some of them made several bracelets using some of the coolest combinations of beads that I've seen in a while. It was great to see how enthusiastic they were to just jump right in and start beading! After a while, some of them wanted to try something else (you can only string so many stretchy cord bracelets, after all!), and we set up a table for some of them to try working with polymer clay.

Polymer clay has never been a favorite material of mine, but these kids were inspiring! One student in particular showed a knack for mixing the nicest pastel colors out of - wait for it - bright neon polymer clay! She made a beautiful lavender color and a gorgeous seafoam green out of the almost-gaudy neon colors of clay I had brought along. And the variation in creations was amazing again as well - beads, focal components, words with jumprings in them so they could be worn. These kids were not afraid to try anything!

The second day was devoted to glass fusing. Using some small pieces of sheet glass, some little glass circles and some millefiore, the kids let their imaginations run wild. There were fused glass robots, pendants, earrings, and even a large objet d'art that reminded me of a painting by Klimt! One student had told me the day before that she was afraid of glass. After that session, she informed me that she was no longer afraid. Yay!

The third day we did more polymer clay. Again, the things that these kids came up with was astounding. We did things a little differently that day, though. Instead of just launching right into it, the kids looked through some of the books I had brought on beads, beading and jewelry for inspiration, and they had to sketch out what they were going to make before they made it.

Before we finished up on the third day, we took a vote as to what we were going to learn on the fourth day. It was a landslide, and a peyote stitch bracelet was the winning project. So, that night, I went home and loaded up one of my suitcases with as many different colors and sizes of seed beads as I could carry to make sure that there was a wide selection and each student could pick out exactly what they wanted to use.

It was a fairly simple bracelet, but like Natalie Goldberg (a favorite author of mine) always says, I had forgotten how to be in the mind of a beginner. Even though it felt to some of the kids like they had bitten off more than they could chew, everyone gave it their best efforts and the results reflected that! There were a few students who just took to beadweaving like a fish to water. Everyone chose beautiful color combinations, and the finished products were pieces that they could all be proud to wear.

The last day was really a wrap-up of everything that we had done all week. We attached findings to the fused glass that one of the art teachers kindly fused for us in her huge floor kiln, some of the kids finished up their beadwoven bracelets, and some of the kids finished cooking their polymer clay creations in the toaster oven. I really felt heavy as I packed up to go home that day - I had had such a great time talking and laughing and joking with the kids, and like I said before, it was so inspiring to me to see all the things that they created.

I think the most important thing that *I* took away from that week was something that I saw from the kids over and over, as we introduced each project: they never thought, "Oh, I can't do this." They just asked me, "How would I do this?" Failure was not even in the back of their minds - they were just so sure that they could do whatever they wanted to with the materials that they just went ahead and did it! Now that's something that we could all learn from.

I did go back the following week to watch them give their presentation on their Intersession Workshop experience. That was another great experience for me - I was so proud as I watched them stand up in front of the whole school and talk about how much fun they had. I also enjoyed seeing the other students' reactions to their creations - all the "ooohs" and "aaahs".

I hope they ask me back for next year! It was such a great way to spend a week!

It was a hard week for me, too, as that was the week that Colden came down with the croup, poor little guy. He had a little upper respiratory bug on Monday. On Tuesday morning, he sounded pretty bad, so Tom took the day off from work and took him to the doctor. His cough got steadily worse all day, and we were watchful that evening as he went to sleep for any signs of distress from him. Well, he woke up around 2:30 a.m. in obvious distress, weezing and panicking as he tried to breathe. We bundled him up and took him on the back porch where it was sub-zero, hoping that the cold would ease the inflammation in his airways. When that didn't work, we sat in a warm, steamy bathroom hoping that that might have opened up his airways. When that didn't work, we took him to the emergency room in Lake Placid, about half an hour's drive from our house. In the ER, they told us that he did, indeed, have croup, and he needed an injection of a steroid and a breathing treatment delivered via nebulizer to open his airways. He finally conked out in my lap around 4:30 a.m., after we'd been there for an hour. We got home from the emergency room at 6:45 - just enough time for me to turn around, shower, change my clothes, and head back into Lake Placid to teach!

But it was all good. I got to take a nap that afternoon, and we all slept really well that night.

And speaking of sleep... It's after nine p.m. now, and once I finish this post, I am going to try to make one more beaded flower for a necklace and then hope to get some sleep myself.

Tomorrow morning, Colden and I are going to the Riverside Thrift Shop in Wilmington. It's their twice-yearly bag sale, and you can fill up a 13-gallon plastic bag with as many items of clothing as you can for a flat charge of $5. You better believe I'm going to clean them out of little boys' clothes!

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