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Monday, February 11, 2019

Highlands Art Program Develops Curious and Courageous Thinkers

One of the plaster sculptures by Highlands High School students

By Robin Gee

Students from the visual arts program at Highlands High School and their teacher shared an update on their work at the recent Fort Thomas Independent Schools board meeting.

Taking many of the Portrait of a Graduate key concepts as a starting point, teacher Andrew Eckerle shared what students in the program have been doing and learning over the past semester.

"The visual art program naturally coincides with the whole philosophy of Portrait of a Graduate," said Eckerle. "We try to get kids courageous in the sense they can be creative and express themselves. We even push them to be curious thinkers. We push them to look at the world with a different perspective, and we push them to be empathetic as well."

Highlands High visual arts teacher Andrew Eckerle and student artists

One popular project that brings together the concepts of creativity and empathy is an annual event that is also a service learning project for the students. Students visit with senior citizens at the Grand Towers Apartments. They come to decorate for the winter season by painting a large mural that features snowmen, Snoopy, Rudolf the Reindeer and other holiday and winter themes.

The event, says Eckerle, is the most popular project for the students and well received by the residents who come down to watch the students at their work. This year about 40 students participated. They also worked on a similar mural for residents at the Clifton Apartments on Monmouth Street.

"You would not believe the amount of concern and care and just genuine wanting to be there that the students have for that experience...We need to do more of that in the community because it’s the students doing something that is bigger than themselves and that’s really important," Eckerle said.

Taking students out of their comfort zones

The art faculty also works to push students out of their comfort zones to explore the world and see art and ways of seeing things they may not have encountered before, he said. This year students visited the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati. Experiences such as this encourage students to be curious thinkers, to ask why and what the art is about.

Students area also encouraged to be courageous with their own work. They have participated in exhibits at group shows throughout the area including two college shows, one at Xavier University and a large show hosted by Thomas Moore College. The Thomas Moore show draws work from students across Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. This year the Highlands students had more artwork included in the show than any other area school.

Exploring new directions

The art program took new directions this year, moving toward more experimental work and ideas. Finding a cache of plaster, Eckerle challenged his students to create life-sized sculptures that could stand on their own. The sculptures were then placed in the hallways at Highlands and have become a source of interest and conversation for all students.

The project was a learning experience for all involved. "We had a lot of fails, and we had a lot of really cool successes. It took way longer than I thought but what was cool about the students... in the end said it was an interesting project to do. We put them out to see. We had no idea what was going to happen with them...And, it’s really cool to see the students engage with [the artists], ask questions about the work," explained Eckerle.

Discovery of a cache of plaster took Highlands art students in a new direction

The art teacher also noted that students in the program have opportunities throughout the year to explore art education option and careers beyond high school. The program hosts a college night and invites alumni to share their experiences with students. The students also participate in open studio time once a month.

Students were encouraged to take risks and explore. Works are displayed in the halls of the Highlands High building

The goal of the plaster sculpture project was to encourage students to be creative and courageous in trying new things


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